How Brunch Inspired Social Change for One Mexican Chef

Who knew brunch—the nurse to our hangovers—could spur social change? I spent time in the kitchen with a young Mexico City-based chef who is trying to change the course of Mexican cuisine, one Eggs Benedict at a time.

Mar 12 2015, 2:20pm


Photo courtesy of Pichón
MUNCHIES-jóvenes-pichón-3 Niki Nakazawa in the kitchen. Image via Pichón's Facebook page.

Niki Nakazawa, with her absolutely lovely smile, is part of a new generation of young entrepreneurs in Mexico. She comes from Japanese and Uruguayan roots and spent most of her life in the US, where she also attended college. She's now the funder of a culinary project incubator where she invests all her time and passion.

"When I was in college I would organize food events with my friends. Everyone that lived in our apartment would cook on the weekends and then we'd invite people over for what we called "Brunch All Day." We wouldn't charge any money, but I learned so much about cooking for large groups of people back then," Niki tells me.

One lucky day, walking around downtown, Niki and her friend Emma—who'd later become the founder partner of Pichón—realized how difficult it was to find a good American-style breakfast in Mexico City (a true void in the culinary offerings of the city).

They found the answer in themselves and decided to found Pichón. They organized their first food event in a fonda in the Colonia Roma neighborhood, and the rest, as they say, is history. Café Zena owners Billy and Amshel invited the duo to use their space for the first event in the San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhood.

In the beginning, the concept seemed straightforward enough: brunch with French toast, Eggs Benedict, and other staple dishes of the American breakfast. As success with these brunches grew, the team began to truly understand the reality of gastronomic culture in Mexico and made their first steps into changing the coarse of where it was headed.

Because of the nomadic nature of its members, Pichón first left its home in San Miguel in early 2015 and moved on to a new chapter that now involves Hugo Durán , who is helping to develop its pop-up dinners.

The "Farm to Table" movement has been around for over 50 years, but it wasn't until recently that Mexico City has begun to embrace it's ethos. Pichón has been there from the beginning. "We had the luxury of establishing direct connections with our suppliers and distributors such as Yolcan, a company that's reactivating chinampas in Xochimilco and Ezekiel Hernández, one of the most important distributors of sustainable seafood in this country," Niki tells me.

Because of the nomadic nature of its members, Pichón first left its home in San Miguel in early 2015 and moved on to a new chapter that now involves Hugo Durán , who is helping to develop its pop-up dinners.

niki nakazawa

Foto cortesía de Comilona.

Hugo Durán is a bit of a restaurant rookie who has only been cooking for three years, but has won the support of his customers though his natural talent. "I love to obsess over ingredients. When I use fish or any other animal, I research everything about it. My process is slow and very analytical," he explains. But Durán is also pulling from his personal experiences for inspiration, which makes him a perfect team player at Pichón. "My food has a lot to do with my friends and with the people that has influenced me directly. I've been greatly influenced by the people around me, and especially those that trusted and gave me an opportunity." This is echoed in his relationship with cocoa guru, Héctor Galván, who owns La Casa Tropical. Galván has revolutionized Mexico's cocoa and chocolate industries through both his work in the field and on the marketing side of Mexican chocolate bars.

"Meeting Hector changed me as a cook. It helped me connect with the ingredients that I use, just as he has done with chocolate. Chocolate helps to reveal things deep inside you and your body."

Pichón is not only a culinary project, but a social one, too. Surrounded by young Mexican artists, cooks, and bon vivants from all over the world, the community that they helped build is an important factor in their success. "What we do is not just about cooking. We organize these events to help create a community and to support furthering this country's food education," adds Nakazawa.

Who knew brunch—the meal to nurse our hangovers—could spur social change?