Mexico’s Best Chef Instructor Urges Young Cooks to Train South of the Border

Chef Federico Lopez has a message—and some of L.A.’s young chefs have already answered the call

Earlier this week, the second edition of Paralelo Norte, a northeastern Mexican gastronomic forum, was held in Monterrey, Mexico. The meeting exhibited local products, showcased the city’s best restaurants (one of them, Pangea, is considered one of the best in the world), and held talks by the top Mexican and international chefs. This year’s theme centered on the migration and fusion of flavors that formed an original cuisine in Mexico as presented by chefs Juan Roca (Celler de Can Roca), Enrique Olvera (Pujol), Edgar Nuñez (Sud 777), Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil), Jorge Rausch (Criterion), Barbara Lynch (Barbara Lynch Gruppo), and host chef Guillermo Gonzalez (Pangea). In total, there were more than 30 accomplished chefs, restaurateurs, and winemakers putting their expertise on display.

The presentations ranged from a discussion of the undiscovered cuisines of Tlaxcala, Tabasco, and Puebla (beyond cemitas, mole poblano and chiles en nogada), a rap-metal fueled northern-Mexican ramen party by chef Antonio De Livier, to a touching tribute to Mexico’s culinary teacher, Federico Lopez, who was given an award for all he has done to teach and train the next generation of modern Mexican chefs.

His message wasn’t to just to stay in school, but to stay in Mexico, where they can receive an education from some of the best chefs in the world. A few chefs in L.A. and throughout the U.S.—Eduardo Ruiz, Jose Benjamin, Roland Rubalcava, and Ruben Lugo to name a few— have already taken Lopez’s advice.

Chef Eduardo Ruiz staged at Latin America 50 Best restaurant (2013 and 2014) Corazon de Tierra in the Valle de Guadalupe, where he worked with chef Diego Hernandez and did events with chefs Enrique Olvera, Guillermo Gonzalez, and Edgar Nuñez prior to opening Corazon y Miel.

Ruiz’s own chef de tournant, Ruben Lugo, just returned from a three-month stage split between Mexico City and Latin America 50 Best restaurants Maximo Bistrot, Pujol, and Quintonil. Lugo was drawn there because these restaurants have done such “incredible work” and added that, “I’m still at awe at what I experienced there in Mexico City, especially at Maximo, taking local ingredients and just making a simple dish out of it was amazing.”

Jose Benjamin, chef Wes Avila’s nephew, has been working at chef Ricardo Diaz’s Colonia Publica and Guerrilla Tacos—Avila is trying to send him to Mexico, too. “I’d like Jose to go and learn from chefs with a different philosophy than my own, him being so young and eager, it would be a good fit for him to experience that level of gastronomy in his grandparents homeland,” wrote Avila in a text message.

Orange County native, chef Roland Rubalcava, a sous chef at Taco Maria has also been trying to find the time to stage at Quintonil.  “I want to learn more technique and about my culture’s food,” he said.

Gonzalez, Nuñez, and others say they’ve been getting inquiries about stages. As Lopez encouraged the culinary students at Paralelo Norte to follow in the foot steps of chefs Diego Hernandez, Jorge Vallejo, and Pablo Salas (Amaranta) and do all of their training in Mexico, under Mexican chefs, now is the time for chefs interested in Mexican flavors north of the border to do the same.