Chef Forest Hamrick grew up 20 miles from the Mexican border surrounded by Mexican food and people who loved eating it - the perfect recipe for the chef de cuisine at La Hacienda at the Fairmont.
"Most of my friends growing up were Hispanic, my wife is Hispanic, and my mom and my grandma are from New Mexico," Hamrick says. "It's kind of in my blood. I love the food. I love the culture."
Collaborating with Richard Sandoval, Hamrick, who started at La Hacienda in 2003, reopened the restaurant after its two-year hiatus, bringing with him ideas for new dishes cooked up in his head during trips to Mexico and jotted down on the shoulders of freeways whenever inspiration struck.
"For me, I definitely have to be in a certain train of thought and a certain mood, otherwise I can just sit there and stare at the wall for hours and nothing will come to me," Hamrick says.
Today, Hamrick reveals his affinity for all things Mexican, including his wife, mercados, and micheladas. He also spills the fast food he craves and the contents of his kitchen cupboards.
Who influenced you most as a chef? Definitely my mom and my grandmas. They are awesome cooks. Still to this day, Sunday dinners are phenomenal. It's old-school home-style American/Mexican cooking, which is just phenomenal. Definitely from them.
Favorite dish to make? I really like making chile verde. It's a recipe that's been passed down from my grandmother to my mom and she showed me how to do it. It's something that the kids love, my wife loves, I love. It's basically a green chile pork stew. You see it everywhere, but nothing beats it. I haven't had anything any better than what my grandma and my mom make.
Weirdest thing you've eaten? When we went down to Mexico City during the summer, we tried gusanos, which were like worms: Worm Tacos. We tried ant eggs that were sautéed in butter that were phenomenal. The crickets, those are everywhere. And they're actually really good; they're basically deep fried, and yeah, they're crunchy. It's almost like eating a seasoned corn nut, and they season them with different spices. You see different fruits and weird different things. It's really cool. I could spend days in those markets, just walking around and trying new things.
Do you have any fast food indulgences? Every once in a while I get a hankering for Jack in the Box. Their Ultimate Cheeseburger, I'll usually get that, fries. I like their tacos. And their egg rolls are good too. But other than that, not really.
Always in the kitchen at home? Definitely always peanut butter, because I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I get home from work. That and cereal. I don't eat at home, and here if you eat, you're pretty much standing up. So it's that that comfort of being able to go home, make something to eat, sit down, watch TV. Whether it's a sandwich, a bowl of cereal or leftovers from what my wife had cooked for the kids for dinner, just eating at home is something I like to do, enjoy doing.
Favorite drink? I'm definitely a beer and tequila man. I like my tequila straight up or sometimes on the rocks with just a squeeze of lime. Balamos - tequila and grapefruit soda mixed together with a little lime on ice. Phenomenal. Micheladas, which are beer with lime and ice, a little salt, sometimes some Clamato. Especially on the beach, those are really good. Every once in a while a nice scotch, too, on the rocks.