Utilísima network: El Toque de Aquiles, Aquilisimo, and Aquiles en Houston. He is also the owner of the new critically acclaimed restaurant La Fishería in Houston, Texas. Interviewing Chef Aquiles was a dream come true for this expat foodie. We talked about Mexican food, cooking, and moving to another country. I am a BIG fan of Chef Aquiles, so getting to interview him was like getting to meet my rock star crush and celebrating my birthday and Christmas all at the same time.
This is the English translation of my interview with Chef Aquiles Chávez.
September is mes patrio (patriotic month) in Mexico, which opens the door to a month-long feast of the best of everything Mexican cuisine has to offer. What would you say are the most emblematic ingredients of Mexican cuisine? That's easy. There are three ingredients that are what I like to call the holy trinity of the Mexican kitchen: Corn, beans and chilies. If I were to turn the Mexican kitchen into a mathematical equation it would be: Corn plus beans multiplied by chilies. I say multiplied by chilies, because chilies are a flavor enhancer. Chilies are what add flavor to our meals.
Speaking of chilies, what are your favorite chilies to work with?
That's a difficult question to answer. Each chile is special. Each chile has it's moment to be enjoyed. It own dish to shine. For example, I can't imagine making chilaquiles without dried pasilla chilies from Oaxaca.
I live in a small town that is famous for producing the best chile de arbol in the world, what are your thoughts on chile de arbol?
I love chile de arbol! I can't imagine eating a bowl of Pozole or a Torta Ahogada without a chile de arbol salsa. I make a salsa with toasted chile de arbol and sesame seeds that goes perfectly with Pozole.
What do you think are some common misconceptions that people have about Mexican food?
That they confuse Tex-Mex food with Mexican food. That all Mexican food is spicy. And that what is served at fast-food taco chains is what constitutes authentic Mexican cuisine.
What Mexican dishes are a must at a Mexican themed party, say for Mexican Independence Day?
You can't have a party without Pozole, Mezcal, Mexican Wine, Tostadas, Refried Beans, Churros....
Is there a Mexican dish or ingredient that is trending in the US right now?
Yes, huitlacoche, nopal, squash blossoms, and avocados are very popular. Especially Avocados from Mexico, the best avocados in the world. 9 out of every 10 avocados sold in the US are Avocados from Mexico.
You recently moved to the US, how was the transition from living in Mexico to living in the US?
It was a big shock. A cultural shock, more than anything. Going from living in a laid back society where our motto is "No pasa nada!" to a society of order and respect, it's a big change. One of the things I like most about the US is that the motto of "el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" applies perfectly here.
How important is it to you and your family to maintain your Mexican traditions and culture now that you're living in the US?
No matter where you live, you have to remember where you came from. One of the most important things for us is to maintain our language. For example, our children will speak English at school and with their friends, but at home it will be strictly Spanish. It's also important for us to conserve our Mexican values, like love, respect for our elders, and family unity, so our children grow up to be positive Mexican-American citizens.
Is there a classic American food that you like?
Yes, hamburgers! Especially homemade hamburgers made on the grill.
You are a spokesperson for Avocados from Mexico, how important are avocados in your kitchen?
It was an honor for Avocados from Mexico to invite me to work with them. I'm an avocado fanatic. It's an all natural product that is harvested year-long in the rich soil of Mexico.
A lot people think that avocados can only be used as a garnish or just to make guacamole, what are some other ways avocados can be enjoyed?
Avocados are a fruit, but in Mexico we think of it more as a vegetable and only use it in savory dishes. In Brazil, avocados are known as the butter of fruits. They eat it spread on toast and drizzled with honey. I recently made an avocado cheesecake at the restaurant that was a big hit.
What are some of your favorite avocado dishes?
I can't imagine eating a ceviche, or a tuna tostada, or a torta without avocado. Those are the foods I enjoy most because they're the flavors I grew up with.
What do you miss most from Mexico?
My parents and the food!
To learn more about Chef Aquiles Chávez, visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter.