Spain.- Santiago Lastra and Alejandro San José are chefs who succeed with Mexico in Europe. They have been summoned to Madrid Fusion to reveal the secrets of its overwhelming formula. Lastra is Mexican, lives in London and has recently obtained a Michelin star for his KOL restaurant. San José is the national champion of pintxos and tapas 2021. He is in Valladolid and being from Spain, his El Habanero taqueria monopolizes the spotlight.
The presence of both confirms that Mexico is a trend in Spain, London, Paris, both in haute cuisine, in the case of Lastra, and in popular cuisine, where San José thrives like a fish in water. His winning pintxo is an ode to Yucatán.
Santiago Lastra is the second Mexican on the European continent to caress the starry sky. His presentation kicked off the Spanish congress, which celebrated its 20th Edition. He said that he provides culinary experiences from Mexico to Londoners with ingredients from the environment, without complicating himself in finding jicama, avocado, prickly pear, xoconostle or holy leaf. He uses those that are similar in appearance, texture and taste to what he has in mind. If he cooks romeritos, he does great with the native herb: ‘seablite’, in English. If he wants plantain he uses parsnip. The avocado substitutes it with pistachio.
In an interview for Debate with answers sent by audio, hours after flying from Spain to England, he says that his most popular recipe is the Scottish langoustine taco, roasted in garlic, smoked chili, served with fermented cabbage and a sourdough tortilla. She infuses the heads with sea buckthorn and the customer has to squeeze them like a lemon. In the kitchen she has twenty people. His team is over forty. The only Mexicans: he and his brother. “It’s nice to share with other cultures, to discover Mexico together and what we can do with ingredients from the United Kingdom.”
The decisive spark to open his restaurant was his stay in Tulum in 2017, when he launched the ‘pop up’ of Noma, an ephemeral restaurant of the number one Nordic restaurant in the world. “It changed my perspective and understanding of Mexican culture, the quality system of artisans and farmers, the community, the complex and diverse gastronomic heritage.”
The indigenous communities in Jalapa also impacted him. “They give a lot of importance to the ritual of food. They take months to prepare a wedding and they choose the ingredients carefully, they cook with devotion”. He says that the Veracruz group Mujeres de Humo taught him that “one is born, lives and dies in the kitchen. And the spirit stays in the kitchen and guides us to prepare delicious things”, he says, still with the adrenaline of the Madrid congress. “Being a part of something so big has been an honor. I met amazing people. I shared the stage with living legends.”
From Cuernavaca, Morelos, his birthplace, abound with family memories. Share one: “I loved Sunday brunch with eggs in a thousand ways, muffins, toast, chilaquiles. A breakfast festival.”
In the presentation he captivated with evocative stories and images of a journey throughout Mexico. She shared that his tortillas are made from Creole corn and also from buckwheat. “It cooks in four minutes and nixtamalizes in 30, while corn takes an hour to cook and four to nixtamalize.”
His mountebank spirit has pushed him from the age of 18 to France in search of the fundamentals of Gallic cuisine. He then found out that the avant-garde was Spanish and jumped to the Basque Country: the Basque Culinary Center and the Mugaritz restaurant. Later he ran into Copenhagen and at some point he saw that Latin America was taking off, but he was convinced by London and its multiculturalism. He started from scratch, despite the fact that he had always refused a project of such magnitude. “When you know how difficult it is, you better not do it. What a blessing it is to be innocent,” he expressed.
Alexander San Jose
kitchen with soul
Alejandro San José, champion of the national tapas and pintxos 2021, refers to Mexico with affection and respect. In a conversation with Debate, he says that in Madrid Fusión he presented the recipe for ‘Salbut criollo’ and it was very exciting, as was the program of talks before and after. “It was incredible. By the way, I saw Santiago Lastra’s and the work he is doing to decipher flavors, express those ideas, it seems to me, brutal”, he says.
As a man from Valladolid, he is proud of the deep-rooted custom of the tapa. In fact, Valladolid is known as the ‘Capital of the World’ or miniature cuisine. Pintxo is in the Basque Country. Both are a small preparation that is eaten in up to two bites.
His creation represents Mexican gastronomy, for him “in all its nuances, the layers of flavor: the corn, the acids, the spice, the freshness of the cilantro.” It is a tiny, puffed and fried tortilla, filled with pork marinated in spices, roasted for six hours in a wood oven. Season with xnipec; pickled onion with sour orange and habanero, spicy mayonnaise, avocado with serrano pepper, radish, cilantro, burnt tortilla powder.
It stands out that in ‘El habanero Taquería’, Paulina Fernández is the touch of authenticity. “When she shows up, everything makes sense,” she notes. She is from Puebla and she went to Mexico for her. She lived seven years and discovered that she, too, had fallen in love with Mexican cuisine. They toured towns, markets, taquerias. They got married and she runs the administration and the room. “I have experienced how the cochinita pibil is made.”
They serve 60 diners daily. He likes to clarify that ‘pibil’ is the underground cooking method and not the axiote marinade. “If you cook Yucatecan cuisine, you have to know what a recado is, how to roast the spices, roast the garlic. Who does not know ceviche and only follows instructions, does something without soul.
Salbut is on their menu, as are cochinita pibil and suadero tacos. He says that he dares with a taco of suckling lamb -small lamb-, the ancestral roast from Valladolid, with truffle and drunken sauce. That the taquería is the result of the pandemic and after the wedding, they had planned to go to Austria, but they stayed in Valladolid. They started with takeout and home delivery, they offered tacos, they opened the dining room, they participated in the pintxos contest and from there, “everything has been crazy”.
He worked at chef Jorge Vallejo’s Quintonil, also in Yucatan, Guadalajara. He comments that in Valladolid there are few Mexicans and more Tex-Mex, cheap and industrial. “Nothing like the real thing.” The corn is purchased from Mexican producers in Valencia. Tortillas to compatriots in Madrid, in addition, it has a habanero chili garden. He aspires to win the pintxos world championship, which, by the way, was a Mexican who reached the semifinals. Mexico never stops shining.
A Mexican-inspired cocktail
It should be noted that not only Mexico or pintxo are in vogue, but also cocktails with ‘gastrococktails’. The salbut has its own and was recently conceived at the ‘Tapas and Pintxos’ congress in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Alberto Benedicto and María Bermejo, mixologist and cook at Aqua Vitae Experience San Sebastián, have created ‘Taste of victory’ with corn liqueur and Mexican whiskey, mezcal, cold infusion of lemon, fennel and basil, syrup and salt from different chiles .
It has a meat point that they achieved by frying pork and adding the liquor. They cool, freeze to separate the fat and filter. Shake the ingredients and voila. “They knew how to read the essence, the contrasts, the roller coaster of flavors,” says San José.
“We seek to promote For the smoked, the mezcal was perfect. We used the Foodpairing program of aromatic molecules, we saw which herbs fit and we seasoned. We exalt”, Benedicto comments to Debate.