Chef Jorge Vallejo: Redefining Mexican Cuisine, Part 2
This is the second installment in a two-part interview with chef Jorge Vallejo. You can find the first installment here.
The Daily Meal: You were on the team that designed the Mexican pavilion at Expo Milano this year. How did you get involved in the project?
Jorge Vallejo: There were about 40 projects submitted from all over Mexico and each project had a chef, an artist, and a biologist on them and I was one of the chefs. Our team was fortunate to be selected as the best and our design concept was used for the Expo Milano. I have not visited yet but I was also asked to curate a menu from the dishes of other chefs in Mexico to give an overall view of Mexican gastronomy, and my dish is a crab tostada.
Why did you choose a tostada?
I believe that a tostada just like a taco—not just a dish but a true expression of our Mexican food and way of eating casually; it is something that you can find everywhere and is very representative of our culture. A tostada to me personally is like a carpet that can feature any kind of food, you can put anything on it like seafood, meat, chicken, vegetables, and you can be creative. The tiny delicious crabs I like to use are from Ensenada on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
What foods are you partial to?
I am partial to seafood since in Mexico, we have access to some great fish from the oceans surrounding our country. I love the fish from Oaxaca, Ensenada, and even California. I not only enjoy cooking with them but also eating this kind of food.
What are your other interests, and where do you hangout on your day off?
I love cycling, running, and I love to be outdoors after being cooped up in the kitchen so I usually head to Chapultepec park, a few blocks from my home. I enjoy seeing all the people relaxing in the park, which also has some great museums. One place I like to hang out these days is Lalo, the new casual eatery by my friend chef Eduardo Garcia, who also owns Maximo Bistrot.
The essence of our city is in our street food and I love to indulge in it. It's also very interesting to see how street food is evolving and they are making some great new things. Taquerias are my favorite places to eat because our city has the best tacos in all of Mexico, and tacos are available every day just about everywhere. They are what our people love to eat as they are fantastic.
As chefs become more renowned, does ego start to overtake true creativity?
There is a risk of that but it is important to keep it in check and only concentrate on creating the best experience and most delicious food. I still think and cook as I have always done and plan to stay that way.
Is the new generation of young chefs, like yourself, responsible for the international attention on your cuisine?
I don't think I am so young [laughs] since I started cooking at sixteen and have been cooking for longer than 16 years now. Of course the climate in the industry is different and we are progressing at a much faster rate and so is our restaurant industry.
Are young chefs playing up the fun elements of Mexican cuisine?
Yes for sure, all of us young cooks are thinking about such elements while we celebrate our produce and are respectful of our traditions. We are actively involved with the producers of our ingredients on a personal level so we can encourage and help them to keep doing it. Sometimes economics plays a role and if they cannot make enough money they go off in search of other work. We want to encourage them by using what they grow so they do not abandon their traditional way of farming.