Joining us at Garza Blanca Resort from SLS South Beach, Miami where he worked under 3 Star Michelin chef, José Andrés, Chef Mario Castro leads the team at a key moment in Blanca Blue Restaurant’s culinary evolution. Blanca Blue’s menu and concept has taken a new turn, showcasing Mexican Avant-Garde Cuisine under the inspiration of Chef Mario.
See what your new chef has to say about Blanca Blue Restaurant’s new concept, life as a chef, and the future of fine dining.
Why did you choose to return to Mexico and join Tafer Hotels & Resorts?
I returned for personal reasons when my father died but I feel that the reason I am back here in Mexico, working with Tafer Hotels & Resorts is no coincidence. I felt a click with Mr. Fernando Gonzalez. He understands what it means to create something new. I feel there is room with Tafer for experimentation, the freedom to create and be an authentic chef.
When I presented the menu which got me the job it was a mediterranean menu. Then Mr. Gonzalez asked me how I would feel about creating a cutting-edge Mexican menu like that of Enrique Olvera from the famous Pujol restaurant. As I am not such a fan of Olvera, I replied: “like Enrique Olvera, no, but my version, yes!” I love the phrase in Mexico that says “para ser chingón, chingón y medio!” which translates as something like, “if you are going to be the best, be the best and a half!”
Tell us about the new menu at Blanca Blue
The inspiration for the new menu at Blanca Blue is Mexican Avant-Garde Cuisine; that is, we are using traditional ingredients and culinary customs from Mexico’s villages and towns, applying new, cutting-edge techniques to create flavorsome dishes for modern taste buds. For example, we will be using some molecular techniques like foams, airs etc, yet remaining faithful to Mexican flavors or using ancient culinary techniques with more modern ingredients.
My passion is to create authentic yet modern dishes, where our diners will find those elements they love about Mexican food turned into inspiring works of art. I don’t want to make a fusion, I want it to be traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients but with avant-garde techniques. My favorite ingredients are those native ingredients that have been used in Mexico for hundreds of years: huitlacoche, pumpkin blossom and so on.
What dish from the new menu is a “must try” for members?
Most certainly the stone soup. This is a fascinating dish that is based on a native ritualistic delicacy in Oaxaca in honor of the gods, where the most pure women of the village would prepare a large hole and fill it with river water and seasoning while the men go out to fish.
During this time, they would heat rocks from the river in a fire so that when the men returned with the fish they would put the red hot stones in the water to cook the fish. Like a barbecue, just a barbecue with water. The stone soup on the new menu is my tribute to this ritual. We will be using a freshwater shrimp in red snapper broth.
Why did you decide on Mexican avant-garde cuisine?
My mother is from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and I spent the first 10 years of my life in Mexico before going to Florida in the United States with all my family. I was brought up with authentic Mexican food. My mother is a really traditional Mexican woman; you know, humble, wears colorful shawls, braids in her hair etc. She would make tortillas each day with her hands. So, when the resort’s owner and founder, Mr. Gonzalez, asked me to prepare a Mexican menu, like something from Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, I decided to do what I know best.
Rather than imitate, I decided to focus on authentic Mexican cuisine, employing the gourmet, cutting-edge textures, tastes and techniques that I have learned throughout my career so far, having worked as an intern for 6 months at El Bulli, sous chef at the Waldorf Astoria in Florida, Chef de Cuisine at The Bazaar by Jose Andres at SLS in Florida amongst other key positions and gourmet festivals.
What makes a good chef?
Knowing who you are as a chef, the right tools and culinary experiences are key. The first thing I did once I began earning a decent wage was to invest in my tools. First, I invested in my knives —each knife costs between 500 and 2000 dollars— and my equipment. Once I was set up in terms of my tools I began to invest in culinary experiences. I began to go to all the best restaurants that I could.
My mother always asks me why I spend so much money on dining, and I tell her that these experiences are central to my development as a chef. I see eating like having an orgasm in your mouth, an explosion of flavors. To be a good chef, you have to be totally committed. For me, the only thing that exists is myself and food. Nothing else matters.
Which chefs do you admire most and why?
For sure, Ferran Adrià, the father of deconstructive and molecular cuisine from El Bulli in Spain. He was the inspiration behind the techniques first launched in the 90s that have given modern dining its distinctive textures, flavours and unique experiences.
In Mexico, I am a fan of Jorge Vallejo with his restaurant Quintonil in Polanco, Mexico City. He is a really humble man; the restaurant is small, for around 40 people, nothing fancy, pretty normal, and while his cuisine is really simple, it is full of flavor. The quelite salad on the new menu at Blanca Blue is a kind of tribute to Vallejo, albeit remastered, featuring the Quintonil dressing, but I have added a peanut bar to the usual ingredients —radishes, dark and light leaves etc— because the dish needs to have that balance of crunchy and sweet.
What is the one ingredient that you could not live without?
Brown sugar! It is an ingredient that brings flavor and harmony, while not being so extreme as normal sugar. It always perfects my dishes. It is that sweet element that gives balance to all of my creations. For example, with pork, with paprika, cayenne or chilli, you need that balance with something sweet, whether sugar or honey, but brown sugar is more subtle.
Tell us about your Tattoos
I have lots, but the main ones on my arms are the chemical formulas for the seven basic flavors: salt, pepper, capsaicin (the spicy taste of chilli), sweet, bitter, sour (citric acid) and umami (savory). I love formulas.
Blanca Blue Restaurant’s new menu is ready for you to savor on your next, visit. Be sure to make your reservation upon arrival so you can meet Chef Mario Castro in person.