Define innovation: It means always looking for something new, always trying to push to the next level and making dishes with everything and anything—basically playing with every ingredient!
Your inspiration: My dad. When I was 12 I saw how hard my dad worked. He never complained about how many hours he was working or how many long days he was putting in, because he loved what he was doing. It inspired me to become a chef.
Favorite ingredients: Dried chilies and avocados. Coming from Mexico, those are probably the two most popular ingredients in Mexican cuisine. I love the way you can completely give a life to a dish with the dried chilies; you get the spice, the smoke. The flavor is absolutely one of my favorite ingredients. The avocado is so healthy, but creamy and delicate at the same time. I can put avocado on anything and I’m sure it’s going to taste good.
Your first memorable dish: Tacos al pastor—I made it with my dad. He shared the recipe with me when I was 14 and now, 20 years later, I’m making that same recipe at my own restaurant.
Your training: I didn’t go to culinary school, but
I had the best teachers because I worked with a lot of different chefs, including Tim LaBant from The Schoolhouse at Cannondale and Bill Taibe from The Whelk and Kawa Ni. I learned a lot from them: how to stay humble, how to always use the freshest ingredients and to treat each ingredient with respect.
Kitchen tool you could do without: Microwave, because I believe everything should be cooked to order, by hand.
Moment you knew you wanted to be a chef:
I always knew I was going to be a chef because I’ve always been involved in the restaurant business. When I was 14, my dad told me if this is what you love to do, you will never work one day in your life. I guess he’s right; I never feel like I’m working. This is a passion and I love doing it.
Photos by Bruce Plotkin