SMALL TALK

Mexican chef Martha Ortiz on her new London restaurant

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Mexican chef Martha Ortiz on her new London restaurant

Related tags: Mexican food, Mexican cuisine, Mexico

The chef-patron at Dulce Patria in Mexico City – ranked number 48 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list – will open her as yet unnamed restaurant at InterContinental London Park Lane next March. BigHospitality's sister publication Restaurant Magazine caught up with her to talk fusion food and 'democratic' ingredients

Why are you coming to London?

London is very interesting. It’s a very cosmopolitan city, it’s very cultural and very high end, and it’s a city where the traditional and the modern combine well. Mexico City is also like that – we have many similarities. Also, England is a country that treats women well. You have a woman prime minister.

Mexican food is becoming a big deal in London. Why do you think that is?

Mexican food is fusion food. Everybody is looking for fusion at the moment and Mexicans have it in their blood. People say that Mexican food is colourful, but it’s more than that. It’s high contrast.

What are the key Mexican dishes?

In Mexico, the mole is very important. With a mole there are 15 different ingredients in your mouth; it’s the most beautiful and sensual food there is. And then there’s tortillas. The tortilla is the communion of the rich and poor, it is like the sun of Mexico. It’s democratic.

So moles and tortillas will feature on the menu then?

We will have four moles, including a yellow one and a black one and a pipián (made primarily with pumpkin seeds). And we will be serving real tortillas. We will be bringing the maize over from Mexico and nixtamalise it (a process that involves adding an alkaline solution to the maize to change its properties) and clean it to make our own masa (tortilla dough). We will also have a manual tortilla machine. When you go to a Mexican restaurant and the tortillas are no good, the restaurant is no good.

What else will feature?

The restaurant will have a small menu that will change a lot, as well as a tasting menu that will change twice a year. My favourite dish is from the north of Mexico and is lobster cooked with lard and served with refried beans and tortilla and salsa. Desserts are also important. We eat a lot of custards and rice pudding in Mexico as well as sorbet – we call it nieve (meaning snow) as I don’t like the name sorbet, it sounds very French – and these will be on the menu. I will do a Mexican lemon and ashes sorbet as a reminder of the ash from the volcanos of Mexico. We come from ashes, we will be ashes and we eat ashes.

What will your London restaurant be called?

I’m not able to say right now because we are still designing all the logos. For me, a name is everything; I need to feel it in my heart. Sometimes Spanish words are difficult to translate into English, so we will ensure that people will be able to pronounce it and understand it. The restaurant will not be named after me.

Describe its style

It will be very feminine, that’s important to me. In Mexico, we have a different approach to food than in other countries. Mexican cuisine allows you to touch ingredients; when you make a tortilla, you have it in your hands. Women are better at touching ingredients than men. The food will be very authentic and it will stay true to the heat of Mexican food – I don’t want to go halfway with chillies. When you do that, you fail. I’m not good at diluting things.

Will you import many ingredients?

I live in a poor country and I have to help my people so I will be getting ingredients from Mexico. In particular, the chillies.

Is it a hotel restaurant or a stand-alone in its own right?

It will be accessible from the street, it’s very important that it’s independent. If you want French Mexican or international Mexican food then I’m the wrong person, but if you want proper Mexican cooking then this will be the place to come.

Who’s going to be behind the stove?

Our chef de cuisine José Antonio Vidal. He’s come to London in the cold weather and has survived so I think he’s going to like it. But I’ll be here every month. That’s why I don’t have 20 restaurants.

Do you have any other plans for Mexico?

I’m opening another restaurant in Mexico City in January. I had a place called Aguila y Sol, which was very successful, but I was forced to close it [in 2008] because I was told I needed more parking spaces. Imagine that? There were other reasons, of course, mainly that I was a successful female chef. Now I am going to reopen it and invite other female chefs to cook there. The cooking will be more historical than at Dulce Patria.

Is Mexican food going to continue to grow over here?

The food revolution is coming from the Americas. Whether from Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Columbia or Chile. These countries are leading the way.

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