Diego Galicia and Rico Torres have had enough. Says Torres, half of the duo behind Mixtli in San Antonio, TX, “we’re going to draw the line in the sand. We’re going to say, ‘No more Tex-Mex.’”
That’s just what they’re doing at their restaurant, a 12-seater housed inside a refurbished boxcar. For Galicia and Torres, an intimate tasting menu model is the ideal setting to master and remaster traditional cooking from across Mexico. ”We’re going to rescue and preserve these recipes that are important to us and our families,” says Torres. “And we’re going to run with it.”
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The two chefs had both been milling about in the restaurant industry for a while—Torres was running his own catering company, while Galicia was working on the line after falling into cooking “as an accident”—when they met at a pop-up project.
They immediately found a groove together in the kitchen; for Galicia, “the connection was pretty instant.” They also found synergy in their culinary practice. “We both had this heritage and background back in Mexico,” says Torres. “My family is from Zacatecas, and I was very close to that, and [Diego] from Toluca.” Their shared values have helped them create a space that, according to Food & Wine Deputy Editor Chris Quinlan, “is really focused on showcasing the history of Mexican cuisine—all of those regional differences, all of those nuances.”
In some ways, Galicia and Torres are approaching their restaurant as historians. Jordana Rothman, Food & Wine Restaurant Editor, points out that “Rico has access to the University of San Antonio’s collection of ancient Mexican cookbooks.” To uncover unknown dishes and ancient ingredients, “he goes into a temperature-controlled room and reads these cookbooks, like, with a glove on.”
Galicia explains that “mixtli means cloud in Nahuatl, the Aztec language.” He came up with the name while staring out an airplane window—”It just hit me. Cloud. Mixtli. We move through Mexico, through the regions, and we’ll do a tasting menu of each.”
Torres expands: “There’s 31 states, so we focus on each state 45 days at a time.” They’ll be cooking for four years before they reach the end—at which point they’ll start all over again. “It won’t be the same Oaxaca you saw 3 years, 4 years ago. It will keep us on our toes.”
All the while, they’ll be sticking to the tenets Torres identifies as central to their restaurant: “Rescue. Preserve. Protect. Promote.” They’re studying, documenting, cooking, and reinterpreting all of Mexico’s dynamic and vast cuisines—”so that our children will know what a good nixtamal tortilla is supposed to taste like.”
For more on our latest class of BNCs, check out the rest of the Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2017.