Mexican Cuisine’s Tantalizing New Horizons with Chef Christopher
While Mexican cuisine is popular with just about everybody, Christopher Holden, an executive chef with Reinhart’s Milwaukee division, believes that chefs have a particular affinity for it that comes from working with people of Mexican descent in restaurant kitchens. During breaks, Holden recalls, staff would prepare traditional recipes for themselves—something he took as a friendly challenge.
“I made it my goal to seek out those who knew how to make really good tamales and different things,” Holden says. “I wanted to learn how to cook them perfectly, so I could make it for them and they’d be impressed.” Here, chef Christopher shares his thoughts on the latest trends in Mexican cuisine, from crowd-pleasing breakfast ideas to dinners even kids will love.
Restaurant Inc.: What is it about Mexican cuisine that makes it special?
Chef Christopher Holden: Even with something as simple as a salsa, there are a million ways to give it a twist. It seems like every family, every chef, every person can put a spin on a recipe to make it their own, and they really stand out from the rest.
RI: Anything new in Mexican dining for 2019?
CH: Mexican food for breakfast is new. We’ve always had the breakfast burrito, but now we’re getting some really cool ingredients in there and rethinking what breakfast is about. It doesn’t have to be eggs, bacon, ham and hash browns. A lot of Mexican food is a high source of protein and a really healthy breakfast, even tacos.
RI: Are we seeing any ingredients gain in popularity?
CH: I’m a big fan of dried poblanos and dried peppers, in general. They’re the root of a lot of flavors because they’re concentrated, and you can rehydrate them and pair them up to make a sauce, salsa, topping or marinade. Chefs are also celebrating some of the cuts of meat that are normally not celebrated, using cheaper cuts and turning them into something awesome.
RI: Have tacos, salsas and sauces evolved as well?
CH: House pickling and in-house fermenting is getting huge, using everything from onion and cabbage to radish. You can infuse a lot of flavoring in them, and they make a really nice garnish for tacos. I’m also seeing infused oils on tacos. You take chili peppers and cilantro and emulsify that into a really nice oil. It’s a very clean, healthy way to sauce something and get a lot of flavor.
RI: How do you bring Mexican cuisine to the level of fine dining?
CH: If you take any upscale protein and give it a Mexican treatment, it brings it up to the next level. We see tacos and burritos all the time and it’s not necessarily a premium protein. If you take black sea bass, for example, and treat it with all those flavors, it will bring it up.
RI: What are your thoughts on making Mexican food kid-friendly?
CH: I like build-your-own anything for kids. Fajitas are kind of the original build-your-own [dish], and they’re fantastic. Kids like their food deconstructed and separated, and they like to create their own things. Just like with a make-your-own pizza, kids can make their own quesadilla. Somebody can come over with a cart, the kids can put it together, then they fire it in the back. That’s exciting.