Your Toronto restaurant, Agave y Aguacate, was highly popular — how did you come to open it?
I started with an eight-foot-long table in a food court and called it Agave y Aguacate, meaning Agave and Avocado.
The produce came from Canada, but the recipes, techniques and flavors were traditional Mexican. I started serving things like octopus escabeche and beef tongue with chile ancho. At the end of a year, my restaurant was named 2nd Best Restaurant of the Year. Though I was mostly making takeout, I had a couple of tables, so I was considered a restaurant. After that, I moved Agave y Aguacate to a proper restaurant. The first week we opened, we were named the best Mexican restaurant in Toronto. A few months later, I was the first Mexican restaurant to make it to the top 100 in the country, and we won number 25.
What made you so successful?
No chef is an island — I did everything with the help of my staff. Everything was done with a lot of love and passion. I always told my staff, “This is to represent the cuisine of Mexico that I love, and not to represent me as a chef.” I was always in the background; it was always about the cuisine. Nothing would sit in the fridge for more than two days. Colorful and flavorful food is food that is fresh every day. That was the challenge for myself and my staff.
What are some staple Mexican ingredients?
Number one: chiles. Dry and fresh. There are over a hundred different chiles in Mexico — ancho, passija, cascabel, mulato, serrano, jalapeño, poblano — so that’s one of the staples. Also, tomatoes and avocados, which go back to the Aztecs. And of course, corn tortillas. Nothing beats the flavor and texture of a freshly made corn tortilla.
Related: Take a Trip to Mexico From Your Kitchen
What is the most misinterpreted Mexican dish?
Burritos. Oh my lord. Burritos in North America are humongous, and they’re always made with rice. A burrito in Mexico is a more humble dish that relies on freshness. The tortilla is a flour tortilla and it has to be freshly made. It has pinto beans, puréed, as a base, and then the filling, which could be shredded beef, chicharrones, salsa verde, rajas, mole. No pico de gallo.
Is Mexican foodfare typically healthy?
Yes, indeed. Mexican cuisine has existed for hundreds of years. Obesity and diabetes numbers were never as high as they are right now in Mexico and it has nothing to do with real Mexican cuisine. Everything in Mexican cuisine was healthy — tomatoes, avocados, onions, coriander, chiles, pork lard.
What are your thoughts on Cinco de Mayo?
It’s something we’re proud of because it’s when the Mexican army defeated the very powerful French at the Battle of Puebla. But there’s no celebration in Mexico. You don’t see bars packed with people — that’s the North American representation of Cinco de Mayo. Based on that, I decided to create these recipes that are fun to prepare, eat and share with friends.