Two Chefs, Two Countries – One Extraordinary Event

A passionate, hot blooded Mexican and a cool, reserved Englishman may seem like an unlikely pair in the kitchen.

Mexico’s Jonatan Gomez Luna Torres of Le Chique Restaurant and the England’s Michelin star chef Marcus Eaves, of Pied De Terre in London were slated to collaborate on an exclusive, one night only, 16 course event hosted by Le Chique restaurant in the Azul Sensatori Resort, Riviera Maya, Mexico. 

A passionate, hot blooded Mexican and a cool, reserved Englishman may seem like an unlikely pair in the kitchen – or anywhere else for that matter. Although the combination of the two opposites certainly piqued my curiosity when I received an invitation to attend the first ever, Chef Collaboration dinner featuring the two top chefs. Mexico’s Jonatan Gomez Luna Torres of Le Chique Restaurant and the England’s Michelin star chef Marcus Eaves, of Pied De Terre in London were slated to collaborate on an exclusive, one night only, 16 course event hosted by Le Chique restaurant in the Azul Sensatori Resort, Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Mexico’s Jonatan Gomez Luna Torres of Le Chique Restaurant

Liza Utter

Mexico’s Jonatan Gomez Luna Torres of Le Chique Restaurant

The odd couple partnership comes off the heels of news that England will pass the baton of hosting the Worlds 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2015 to Mexico this year.  Hence a robust and widespread media campaign by the Mexican government to elevate their longitude status and bring awareness to Mexico’s exciting culinary scene through a series of one night only collaboration dinners featuring Mexico’s award winning chefs.

An easy flight to Cancun and a twenty-minute drive to Riviera Maya transport me to the Azul Sensatori, home of the Le Chique fine dining restaurant. Surrounded by palm trees, white sandy beaches, loads of sunscreen laden tourists and road running iguanas, Le Chique restaurant sits modestly and inconspicuously between two of the hotel’s guest room buildings and at the end of an enormous swim up bar anchoring one of the many meandering, lagoon like pools.  My first thought, as I walk amongst the honeymooners, drunken bachelorette party-goers, wedding party recruits mastering the fine art of tequila body shots, not to mention a few very out of place looking retirees and young families – all of the above slathered and sunning on an infantry of wet towel flung lounge chairs, is – really?  This is the location chosen for the highly anticipated and exclusive-16-course-haute-gastronomy-Chef-Collaboration-dinner-for-one-night-only, presented by two of the world’s elite chefs?

My mind started swirling with questions for these two top chefs, including the incongruent venue choice.  I sat down to interview them just 2 hours before their big night.  Calm, sincere, focused and charming the two chefs - now friends, answered my questions and told me the story of a partnership between two countries, as if we had all the time in the world.

Liza Utter:  Your 16 course menu was divided in half is that right?

Jonatan Gomez Luna Torres: exactly

Liza Utter:  how did you decide on the menu - which one of you was going to cook what?

Jonatan Gomez Luna Torres:  well we worked together two months ago in London at his restaurant and I know the style of the Marcus, and he knows mine, so I said send me whatever you want, anything you want – everything you make in your restaurant is wonderful…

Marcus Eaves: yeah, we worked together so well at my restaurant Pied De Terre in London, that it was literally an exchange of just a couple emails.  It was such a natural process really, so easy. So what could have been quite difficult actually turned out to be pretty simple.

LU: If every menu tells a story, what story are you telling with your menu tonight?

ME: the story is still going actually because we came up with the basic idea for the menu and then Alejandro, Jonatan’s sous chef just brought in some amazing mushrooms this morning from Mexico and truffles arrived last night that originally weren’t on the menu so we will be using those as well.

JGLT:  yeah, we are trying to bring to Marcus the best of Mexico.  When I was at Pied De Terre, Marcus brought the best of Europe.  Barnacles that come from Scotland, Sea urchins – so now we try to bring the best of Mexico to the chef. Right now the story is still being written.

ME: yes, yes…

LU:  How much effort, preparation, planning did it take to prepare for tonight’s dinner?

ME: it’s a lot of work actually.  Many phone calls, emails and lots of discussions going back and forth.  Sending all the recipes, including as many details as possible, down to the ingredients to make sure the night went as smoothly and efficiently as possible.  It was a lot of work on the correspondence level because it’s not like you can just run 10 minutes down the road and have a chat, have a coffee or a beer {laughter} it’s a big deal, a lot of work.

LU: Did you have to translate the recipes as well?

JGTL: oh yeah, that was crazy because there were so many ingredients we don’t have here in Mexico and I didn’t know what he was talking about. It was funny.  But I think these kinds of dinners bring power to my team because Marcus is a perfectionist chef, it brings new ideas to the kitchen.  This collaboration is, how do you say in English?

ME: …an inspiration

JGTL: …yes, this is the word.

ME:  even outside the kitchen, down to the fishing we did here in Mexico, just learning how to make ceviche so simple and tasty. Just to see different ideas and take them back to the UK.

JGTL: yes, this is a lot of work – we brought ingredients by plane from Ensenada, the best fungus from the center of Mexico – it is a lot of prep, a lot of work – tons and tons of prep for each dish and tonight is sixteen courses – that’s a lot.

LU: So Jonatan, what story are you telling with this menu?

JGTL: it is a story about friendship, collaboration and passion because I feel like Marcus and I are on the same page.  Super passionate about food, perfection and products, and Le Chique restaurant is the same here in Mexico. It is about a good chef goes to London and a good chef goes to Mexico and become friends, now it’s a story together.  It’s not about the restaurant Le Chique or Pied De Terre – it’s about good friends cooking together for enjoyment.

ME: yes, cooking is universal isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Mexico or London, if you have a passion it’s great to find different people to share that with.  It’s all about quality and being the best you can be.

JGTL: yes, right now I am not a one man show or Marcus is a one man show, we are part of a team trying to bring the best experience to you, for all guests with a lot of passion and 25 cooks all with one motive, and that is to bring you the best menu you ever had.

LU:  You talk about how you are both much the same, passionate, perfectionists, friends – how would you say your styles differ?

{Chef’s laughter}

ME:  …that’s a good one now isn’t it. There are differences in our styles; Jonatan’s is very modern, more molecular I would say, whereas mine is not molecular.  It’s a little more natural. I don’t use so many chemicals or products – I leave the food in a very natural way. But that’s what makes it interesting.

LU: would you agree?

JGLT: totally.  When I dine at Pied De Terre all the plates are so elegant, all the ingredients have a sense on the plate, very classic, yet still looks modern. Here at Le Chique we try to take classic Mexican food and present it in a modern way in a 21st Century concept and still have respect for the classics.

LU: What do you think the significance of this collaboration will be for your county and culture?

JGLT:  right now food around the world is not just a necessity, people go to restaurants now for an experience.  It’s about wine, food, service, presentation – you can travel 12 hours by plane and see the same passion.  It is very important for Mexico to see what’s happening around the world.  We are sharing passion, ideas, a glass of wine.  The chef’s right now, around the world are very together and this is very important to me, to make me better, our team better.

ME: …yeah, very much so.  When I was training as a chef you wouldn’t dream of going to another chef’s restaurant and cooking a dinner together, creating a menu together like that.  It was very much sort of cloak and dagger, secretive, competitive, can’t share your recipes, - when you think about it, it was pretty terrible. Chefs are realizing that you can be better by sharing. Nowadays people are sharing ideas, recipes, experiences and you know the quality of restaurants in general will benefit from that. If you can better yourself that’s brilliant.  And if we benefit then the customer benefits – it’s quite amazing.  I didn’t know anything about Mexican food before I came here and now that I’ve been here I want to explore more and learn about it – it’s a very exciting place to be.

LU: Would you say cooking like this, having the same goal, sharing a kitchen elevates you above different cultures, language?

ME: yes…

JGLT: yes, I think so.

ME:  surprising isn’t it.  The whole point of this menu is to show people our differences and open their worlds to something new.

LU: I have one last question for you Jonatan. Why is an exquisite fine dining restaurant like Le Chique here at this location?


JGTL:  here? That is the golden question.  The journalists from Mexico always say the same thing – why here?  Why do we have this super unique restaurant in the middle of this resort? I don’t know – because we have land here. It’s funny, but I’m happy here.