Continuing with Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15 - 10/15) on in-sight. Today's feature is the second part of a three part interview with the master of contemporary Mexican Cuisine, Chef Roberto Santibañez.
Recently, Symrise NA VP of Marketing, Emmanuel Laroche spoke with Roberto to get his take on everything from how his heritage influences his cuisine to which types of ingredients he prefers. The following is part one of a three part interview with Chef Roberto. In this part of the interview, Mexican Chef Roberto Santibañez speaks about his Latino heritage, the tortilla, flavor, soup, Italian Food, Latin Food and more!
For Chef Roberto its all about flavor, the chili pepper, and the right amount of spicy.
Chef Roberto Santibañez is the chef and owner of two New York restaurants: La Botaneria in Park Slope, Brooklyn; and Fonda Manhattan. The teacher, author and award winning chef was raised in Mexico City and trained in Paris at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. He went on to serve as Executive Chef at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas, and was named “Best Chef” by the Austin Chronicle while also earning Five Stars from the Austin American Statesman. Zagat has cited expertise as living up to the “gold standard for upscale Mexican dining.”
Growing up in Mexico City, was there a dish your mother or grandmother prepared that was your favorite?
Of course, very simple things become your favorite, like the meatballs, the tortilla soup, noodle soup – these items were more extensively used in urban places like Mexico City – which is pretty international and cosmopolitan. It’s always been the case that there are so many people in the city, with different cultures and backgrounds – it’s like New York. Every race from every part of the country has come to the city, bringing their different roots, different ways of eating. Many white people have moved to the city from different parts of the world, not only from Spain, but from Japan. You find them on every corner in Mexico City. Take the Japanese making sushi by combining chipotle with cream cheese, and putting it on top of salads. They adjust. Our culture, food wise, gets adjusted to the expectations of each group.
Based on your vast experience, what’s the biggest U.S. misconception about Latino cuisine?
I just think that when it comes to Mexican food, everyone thinks it’s going to be spicy; that everything will have a red sauce while the varieties are really immense and the sophistication is enormous. People think it’s a cheap cuisine. For example, you frequently see on the internet that when people return from Mexico, they say it was “expensive for Mexican,” having anticipated that it would be cheap. It’s the same for Peruvian foods. We have not reached the level of – let’s say – Italian food. And how many years did it take for that to take hold? For Italian foods to be recognized as a cuisine that is now admired and revered? It took many decades. Italian immigrants came and everybody thought they just brought pasta with red sauce and then it went on to other experiences with Italian food. I think that’s the same path that’s now being taken with Latin cuisine. People will com e and prepare Latin food and creations with different products. Latin restaurants and products will only get better and better.
It appears that more and more Mexican chefs are classically trained, bringing the French fundamentals to Mexican cuisine: is this an evolving phenomenon?
I think it’s one part of the whole evolution. Like adding some meats or changing recipes to get more protein. Some people like this, but I think you need to preserve the tradition of the cuisine. It’s hard for some to understand it. You have restaurants, like Pampano in New York, owned by Placido Domingo and Richard Sandoval – it’s a restaurant that has become more mainstream but it was originally
authentically Mexican and super sophisticated, one of the first Mexican restaurants to be cited by the New York Times for its excellence. Another thing that needs to happen is the opening of more Mexican ‘tablecloth’ restaurants by Mexican chefs. It will happen. At one point or another, it will be the same as it was with Italian food.
Check back next week on in-sight for part 3 of Emmanuel's interview with Chef Santibanez!