I like to cook with the philosophy of using great ingredients and not altering them too much.
I was a little, uh, incorrigible as a kid, so the kitchen was a good place to give me structure and balance. It taught me hard work, but then I grew to love it.
Latin food suffers like Chinese. You can do marginal Chinese and be successful. You can do crappy Mexican and be packed.
If we’re talking fantasy, I would love to host a late night talk show… More Fallon than Leno. Those guys always seem like they’re having way too much fun at their ‘jobs.’
My biggest challenge is cooking traditional French dishes, which usually require very specific techniques and methods. That’s just not my style… I cook from the soul.
Marcus Samuelsson is a chef who inspires me everyday. He has such a deep understanding of flavors and techniques. His food is representative of the diverse world that we live in. What he has done in Harlem with Red Rooster is very special. Marcus is not just a chef, he’s a food activist.
When I was a teenager, I worked in New Orleans for a chef named Paul Prudhomme. That was a very important time in my life as a chef. I developed my palate and learned a lot. And here I am now. I specialize in modern Mexican and contemporary Latin cuisines.
Instead of going out, I’m trying to encourage people to have a memorable experience in their own home. We call it ‘Delicioso Night In.’ I invite the people I care about the most. Then, when I get a lot of people together, I like to have finger foods.
My mother and my grandmother are pioneers of Mexican cuisine in this country, so I grew up in the kitchen. My mom, Zarela Martinez, was by far my biggest influence and inspiration – and toughest critic.
I wanted to get away from the Mexican vernacular and do more ‘nuevo Latino.’ Americans are starting to understand regionality in Mexican food. It is very regional in terms of ingredients.