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Chef shows complexity in Mexican cuisine
April 4, 2007 / 4:40 PM / 11 years ago

Chef shows complexity in Mexican cuisine

<p>Chef Roberto Santibanez in an undated photo. Santibanez is an ambassador of contemporary Mexican cuisine. His mission is to show that his country's cooking is as varied and complex as the country itself. REUTERS/Christopher Hirsheimer/Handout</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Roberto Santibanez is an ambassador of contemporary Mexican cuisine. His mission is to show that his country’s cooking is as varied and complex as the country itself.

A prevalent misconception, which Santibanez wants to dispel, is that Mexican cuisine is laden with heavy sauces.

“If Mexican food is well executed and intelligently made, it’s one of the healthiest cuisines in the world,” the 43-year-old Mexico City native said.

“Everything we do is vegetable-based.”

Santibanez has been the culinary director of Rosa Mexicano for five years. Under his guidance the restaurant chain has been ranked among the best in New York City.

His upcoming cookbook “Rosa’s New Mexican Table” displays his global approach to Mexican cuisine.

Santibanez spoke to Reuters about his cooking:

Q: What sparked your interest in food?

A: “I was brought up fortunately in a typical Mexican family, full of good cooks. At my grandmother’s kitchen with the big table in the middle, that was where everything happened in our lives. I never wanted to do anything else professionally.”

Q: What has been your main influence?

A: ”I look to my country for inspirations and ideas. I go to Mexico and up to the mountains. I go to places where I’ve never been and look for food I’ve never tasted. The women up in the mountains cooking in little houses -- they are my inspiration.

Q: What equipment and utensils could you not live without?

A: “You can’t live without a blender and a spice grinder. Another thing is a little wood mortar to grind small amounts of spices for a sauce.”

Q: What new flavors and techniques are you experimenting with?

A: “There is only an X-amount of chilies and an X-amount of techniques and ways to do them. Mexican food is very ample and varied. At the end, however, there are common ways in tying together the various techniques and chilies. This gets me to think, ‘Why do we mix this sauce with this chili?’ or ‘Why don’t I come up with a mixture of different chilies?'”

Q: What do you cook when you are by yourself?

A: “There are two things I cook for myself a lot. I make a big pot of chicken soup. I use a lot of onions, zucchinis, tomatillos, corns, bunches of cilantro and of course chilies. I also love to cook brunches at home. I make omelettes, frittatas, huevos rancheros and different kinds of salsas.”

Rosa Mexicano’s guacamole

(4 servings)

1 tablespoon finely chopped white onion

1 firmly packed tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeno, or more to taste

1 teaspoon salt, or as needed

3 medium ripe but firm Hass avocados

3 tablespoons diced tomato

Salt if necessary

Chile paste

Grind the onion, cilantro, jalapeno, and salt together until all the ingredients are very finely ground. Alternatively, use a fork to mash all the ingredients to a paste in a wide hardwood bowl.

Cut each avocado in half, working the knife blade around the pit. Twist the halves to separate them and flick out the pit with the tip of the knife.

Fold a kitchen towel in quarters and hold it in the palm of your “non-knife” hand. Rest an avocado half cut side up in your palm and make 3 or 4 evenly spaced lengthwise cuts through the avocado flesh down to the skin, without cutting through it. Make four crosswise cuts in the same way.

Scoop out the diced avocado flesh. Repeat with the remaining avocado halves.

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