Your most embarrassing moment in the kitchen: I was having a heated conversation with another chef in the kitchen, and in mid-sentence, a temporary tooth flew out of my mouth and landed on the floor in front of the whole staff. The most embarrassing part was picking the tooth back up off the floor. There was a lot of laughter in the kitchen that day.
What really turns you off when you're dining at a restaurant?: Indifference.
National or international chef you admire and why?: Judy Rodgers, Deborah Madison & Alice Waters because of their humble approach and respect for the ingredients. I like their sensibility. They take a sensitive and responsible approach to food, not a gluttonous one. Portions are just right. There's nothing left on the plate to waste.
What's your guilty pleasure?: Are still talking about food or something else?
What most people don't really know/understand about Mexican cooking is: Many people can't make the distinction between New Mexican cuisine & Mexican Cuisine.
Your mom was Vietnamese but you grew up in Mexico. Describe a meal your mom might have made: She would make traditional stirfried dishes composed of chayote, freshly picked mushrooms, squash & squash blossoms, peppers, onions and other stuff -- served with tortillas & salsa. She would also make sopa de fideo with rice noodles, chicken and a tomato broth.
Dish you'd have on the menu if you thought customers would eat it: Cabrito (goat) tacos. We have the ability to get goat fresh & local. I ran it at Gallo once as a special, and it was very tasty, but it didn't sell. Needles to say, the staff and I had a fabulous meal at the end of the night.
Would you typify the food at Gallo Blanco as traditional Mexican, modern Mexican, or something else?: There is a strong element of tradition in our cooking methods, but as far as ingredients, we explore & leave ourselves open to what is available to us.
Which region or state did you live in and what were some of its specialties?: I lived in Tepotzotlan and its specialties are chlies en nogados, moles and barbacoa.
Describe your favorite Mexican street food: Pancakes are everywhere. You can get them at a roadside stand filled with bananas, cajeta and fruit compote. You roll them up and eat them like a taco.
Name a culinary mentor and explain what you learned from that person: Patrick Fegan [at TK's Urban Tavern]. He has such a great work ethic.
In which kitchen have you had the most fun and why?: Robert McGrath's kitchen. He is a fun chef to work with.
People often think that Mexican food is peasant food. Is that perception based on our proximity to Sonora?: Absolutely. Mexico has some of the richest food sources & varieties. Because a large portion of Mexico is located in the Tropic of Cancer and has a very temperate climate, it's easy to grow many different varieties of food. Also they have a huge source of tropical fruits and vegetables available to them. Most of that never crosses over to the US. A perfect example of the complexity of Mexican cuisine is mole -- from the chocolate sauce to the green moles that resemble curry.
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What did you take away from your experience at LGO?: Only the good. It is amazing what was achieved there by all those folks. The DeMarcos and the Lynns taught me a lot. I am a better person for it.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles