Star chef Traci Des Jardins turns the page on Mexican cuisine with el Alto | News

Renowned chef Traci Des Jardins, a James Beard award winner and recognized chief of the California delicacies motion, is bringing a fresh new aim on food items to the Midpeninsula. This week, Des Jardin opened her new California-Mexican cafe el Alto at the Point out Street Sector meals corridor in Los Altos.

El Alto, which Des Jardins will function with chef de cuisine Robert Hurtado, pulls from the plentiful agricultural resources of California’s Central Valley to rejoice Mexican culinary traditions. The menu is a departure from her early times at the famed San Francisco restaurant Jardinière, which catapulted her into the spotlight as the leader of California-model cuisine in the late 1990s. Lots of of the nation’s very best cooks handed via the kitchen area, and famous people sought out seats in a multistory eating area, which could accommodate 600 prospects a evening.

Inspite of her early achievement, Des Jardins, whose maternal grandparents were from Mexico, claimed that if she could begin her profession around yet again, she would have concentrated on Mexican food from the very starting.

Motivated by the rise of regional Mexican cuisine’s attractiveness and the get the job done of writer Diana Kennedy, who spent a long time producing Mexican cookbooks dependent on investigate in home kitchens, Des Jardins wishes to be a portion of this movement showcasing the depth and assortment of Mexican delicacies.

I spoke with Des Jardins and Hurtado to study about el Alto’s fashionable Mexican menu, which functions dishes like King Town Pink Beans refried in duck fats and apricot mole inspired by Los Altos’ orchards.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Peninsula Foodist: I don’t know if you both equally would recognize as second-technology Mexican Individuals, but I’m pondering if you could communicate to me about the delicacies at this restaurant. What does it indicate to you to provide this foods?

Traci Des Jardins: I grew up with Mexican food items as my soul food stuff. I finished up learning French delicacies and functioning in that entire world that has morphed into staying California-French foods, which is what I was identified for.

I opened my to start with Mexican cafe in 2004. If I could flip again the clocks and redo my whole vocation of 38 many years, I believe I would have truly focused on Mexican food from the pretty commencing and long gone deep into Mexico to encounter (the delicacies) firsthand simply because it really is pretty regionally certain. There are a lot of ingredients that you only locate in one area in Mexico, and it can be undoubtedly a lifetime of discovering.

I try to remember opening Mijita in 2004. And the understanding of what Mexican food was, even at that time, was a lot more concentrated on burritos, and burritos you never even discover in Mexico. So the comprehending of Mexican foodstuff has actually improved in the past 20 decades. I feel that this minute is genuinely ideal for this restaurant and for us to examine California elements as a result of that Mexican lens.

Robert Hurtado: You could go to equally of the taquerias right here (in downtown Los Altos), and they serve the same things. There’s unquestionably a location for that, but I want men and women to be capable to investigate Mexican cuisine by way of a different lens there’s additional to Mexican meals.

I have taken things that I’ve learned from every chef that I have at any time worked with and produced that into the delicacies we are executing below. Wherever it’s a good deal of California cuisine, but at the exact time, we’re making use of Mexican elements and turning the complete web site on what Mexican meals is.

Heading to Mexico now, you are going to see various types of moles, you’ll see quite modern day plating, but they will use very previous-school procedures, Indigenous substances. And it is a genuinely interesting thing to see, tiny Oaxacan farmers developing these heirloom kinds of corn. And (then when cooks incorporate) that with the new, everyone’s just like, “Oh my God, this is the best corn tortilla I have ever had!”

Peninsula Foodist: Robert, you mention some travels by Mexico. But also, the each of you grew up in California encountering Mexican foods with your family members. I was wanting to know, what are some of people inspirations, dishes or flavors that stick with you?

Hurtado: I have developed up eating Mexican foods (in San Juan Batista). My grandma utilised to make flour tortillas from scratch every solitary working day, and that was ease and comfort food stuff to me — a flour tortilla with a little bit of butter and salt.

Des Jardins: So amusing. We by no means talked about that. I have the specific exact matter. What type of excess fat did your grandmother use?

Hurtado: She normally applied Crisco.

Des Jardins: My grandmother experienced drippings underneath her sink, so it was bacon extra fat or regardless of what.

Hurtado: That’s what my grandma would use, duck extra fat for refried beans, so that’s why the duck fat refried beans we do in this article make feeling. It is really consolation foods.

Des Jardins: My grandmother moved to Colorado when she was 5, and then my mom’s dad arrived to Los Angeles in the 1920s. He was a minor league baseball participant, and he arrived from Sonora, so the Mexican food items I grew up consuming was seriously derived from Sonora.

Grandma designed tortillas every working day. And that’s what we grew up with. My grandfather applied to make menudo, though. My grandmother wouldn’t enable him make it in the dwelling, so my mom established up a stove out in the garage due to the fact the tripe smelled so terrible. … So I grew up with people traditions.

Peninsula Foodist: Going back again to just one matter you reported Traci, how if you could go again in time, you would cook Mexican meals in your dining establishments. Is that something that even was on your thoughts at the time? Or were you chasing that French-Californian (culinary standard)?

Des Jardins: It wasn’t truly. It was when I began to research Mexican cooking by means of textbooks and looking at about Diana Kennedy’s odyssey as a result of Mexico.

She’s truly significantly more of an anthropologist than she is a cookbook creator. I indicate, her analyze of Mexican cooking was just driving to these very little villages. And the thing about Mexican meals is (that) it was generally so hidden for the reason that it happened in homes. So even if men and women had been traveling in Mexico, they would working experience just the surface stage.

But the ideal food was taking place in people’s homes, and Diana penetrated that entire world. She would go to a village and say, “Who’s the greatest cook dinner in this town?” And then she would go and come across that particular person. And she would go to their dwelling. And she would document what they had been undertaking.

The moment persons started to recognize the depth of these flavors, elements and strategies, they began to turn out to be curious about them. And which is what has made Mexican food stuff burgeon in the world’s look at.

It seriously took a extensive time for that discovery and comprehension of the breadth of Mexican cooking. So if I could consider all that time back and retrace Diana Kennedy’s measures, that appears to be like it would be a life time of discovery and studying. That would be really cool.

Peninsula Foodist:You have an prospect here, Robert, to run this kitchen. I am wondering about a similar question. I saw you worked for Coi, Wealthy Table and places to eat in San Francisco. Did you see your self cooking Mexican food when you initial established out to be a cook dinner or a chef?

Hurtado: I preferred to function for the most effective. And at that stage in time, Coi was the only two Michelin star cafe in the metropolis.

I continue to seriously enjoy fine dining at that stage, and it has its put, but I just really don’t see myself undertaking that model, a tasting menu … at the very least not at this point in time. But at the time I went to Incanto and started performing with Chris Cosentino and offal, I was like, “Dude, I genuinely like this.” This is sort of what I grew up with, but with Mexican food. (Hurtado’s grandfather was a butcher).

I’m performing at all these locations, studying all these diverse techniques, but I however type of overlook cooking Mexican meals and what I am utilized to. All these places to eat have great foods, but is it truly my passion? I was not actually confident.

It took me traveling right after I was carried out at Loaded Desk to comprehend that I just appreciated Mexican meals. I was looking at Mexican places to eat, staged at Californios, but they were not hiring at the time. So the subsequent finest area was (Des Jardins’) Arguello. I was there for four-ish a long time, and I haven’t looked back because. It was in all probability the most educational time (in my lifestyle), and Traci gave me a good deal of inventive independence — probably a small bit much too significantly innovative independence.

Peninsula Foodist: It truly is great to see how this chance was there for you to get the job done at Arguello and stage at Californios. Traci, you were mentioning, it truly is just 20 years back that there was not this regard for (Mexican) cuisine or this knowledge (in the United States).

Des Jardins: It transpired in (an instantaneous). I try to remember going down to Mexico Metropolis with a bunch of my chef mates, and we went to Diana Kennedy’s household and expended the day with her. It was remarkable.

I try to remember examining a Oaxacan black mole recipe, and I was just like, “I never know what is going on with this.” And then I went to Oaxaca and adopted that Diana Kennedy rule. I went to this market and questioned, “Who’s the most effective prepare dinner all over listed here?” And they’re like, “Dominga. You gotta go see Dominga.”

I went and found Dominga, and I cooked Oaxacan black mole with her and her sisters. She did not have any electricity. Her house was actually half-constructed from the bottom up, so it didn’t have a roof.

She experienced a small coal-burning stove that she was doing work on. We developed a hearth, and she soaked the hominy. And so we went to the molino (mill), and we had the hominy ground for the tortillas. I bought to go via this system, and it was just intellect-boggling to me, to have that firsthand working experience of (studying from) this indigenous lady to whom this recipe had been handed down (in excess of generations). She was so precise.

She was seriously tests me. She manufactured me stir the mole for most likely an hour and a 50 percent. And she thought, “There is no way this minimal wimpy white chick is gonna be ready to do this.” And I was like, “Ok, perfectly, I received this no difficulty.” But she entirely designed me demonstrate myself. And then I just, you know, fell in adore with her. She finished up getting showcased on just one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows.

Hurtado: You can find a excellent quotation that I have witnessed a pair moments. It goes: “Tolerance is the essence of Mexican cuisine.” Mexican food stuff is just not quickly food items, you happen to be intended to enjoy, nurture and care for it.

Peninsula Foodist: So why is it crucial for you to take those traditions or classes you uncovered (in Mexico) and from your possess family members and carry it listed here to a cafe in Los Altos? How does that in good shape into that much larger motion of Mexican food items or awareness close to Mexican meals?

Des Jardins: I just want folks to recognize. If you polled 100 persons and asked what a mole sauce is, they would say it really is a chocolate sauce. Sure, you can find a small little bit of chocolate in some moles, but not a whole lot. And they will consider it can be a sweet sauce. Some of them are sort of sweet, (but) there’s this huge variety of what a mole can be.

We have the option to make it possible for individuals to working experience actual Mexican foods, and that is a reward. We get to share the present that we have with other people and get them on an practical experience.

el Alto, 170 Point out St., Los Altos 650-949-1247. Instagram: @elaltolosaltos.

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Anthony Shu writes for, a sister publication of Palo Alto On line, masking what to eat, see and do in Silicon Valley.

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