Exploring Mexican Cuisine with Chef Danny

Mexican cuisine consists of the recipes, cooking techniques and traditions from the country of Mexico in North America. Discover everything you'd want to know about the cuisine from our chef, specializing in Latin America, Danny Espinoza.

What is Mexican cuisine and what is it known for?

It's a beautiful culture wrapped in a tortilla. Mexico is a global melting pot, thriving with lots of influences and gifts that were brought to the motherland. Mexican cuisine is known for humility, respect and pleasure. When I dive into this beloved cuisine, I think of our ancestors and the many generations that have kept and shared the beauty of feeding and eating.

In the US, we share the mainstream foods of Mexico, such as tacos, burritos, tostadas, tortas, etc. Now, we are voyaging into more than tacos as a whole -- discovering the beauty of layered flavors, aromas and techniques. The abundance of capsicums and wild herbs are yet to be brought to the mainstream. Until then, I will continue to advocate for the “above and beyond” ingredients of Mexico the world has yet to discover.

What is considered authentic Mexican food?

One example of authentic Mexican food is mole, which runs throughout the seven regions of Mexico. With the layering of flavors and techniques, you can hear our ancestors whispering through the toasting, crackling, popping and frying of these ingredients. Mexico also lives and thrives off of corn, or maize. You will notice it is used as a driving vehicle in tacos, tamales and pozole. Salsas are also an authentic side dish that gives many recipes that fresh shower of heat you might not even know it needed.

Simply put, happiness is an example of Mexican food. Humility, honest cooking, with no desire to mask or dilute.

What are common spices and herbs used in Mexican cuisine?

Ingredients that are often found in this style of cooking are Mexican oregano, annatto, chiles, cumin, anise, garlic, onions, cilantro criollo (wild cilantro), avocado leaves, as well as a combination of dried and fresh chiles.

Describe Mexican food culture and food traditions. 

Mexican food culture is full of joy and pride. Pride in the sense of throughout history we forget how valuable our culture is and has been. We are in a spot where we first had to open our eyes and appreciate what we have and are born into. Food traditions are so bold and strong because many of them have been passed down from generation to generation.

We celebrate with family, and if family isn’t present, we invite our friends. Imagine a Mexican Thanksgiving. That’s what our traditions are surrounded with and as you can imagine….. tequila, mezcal and cervezas are used in recipes, along with being enjoyed responsibly, as a beverage on its own.

What is the backstory behind the Tex-Mex cuisine? 

In the 1880’s in San Antonio, Texas, a group of women would sell a steaming bowl of chili con carne, which became and still is one of Tex-Mex’s signature dishes. "The chili queens," as they became known as, helped establish San Antonio as the Tex-Mex capital of the world. It was around 1893, at the World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois, where fair goers were able to purchase this delectable meat, beans and chili pepper stew at, "The San Antonio Chili Stand.” While the popularity for Tex-Mex cuisine grew, a German immigrant began selling his own brand of chili mix.

San Antonio became the forefront of combination plates with rice, beans, sour cream and cheese being added to enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, enchiladas. These dishes were considered "Mexican" until the early 1970’s when Diana Kennedy inadvertently turned Tex-Mex into its own cuisine. It wasn’t until Kennedy’s book, “Cuisines of Mexico,” released in 1972, that she made a clear distinction between “authentic Mexican food” that's served in Mexico and what was being served North of the border, in the US. Many were offended that Tex-Mex became a thing, but for Diana Kennedy it was important to point out the differences in technique and the recipes because she had no use for the plates from Mexican restaurants in the North, after spending decades studying and transcribing authentic recipes of her beloved Mexico.

Any new trends in Mexican cuisine?

Birria is definitely a big trend in Mexican cuisine. Anything that may be “instagramable” might be a new trend. First and foremost, I will always respect the foundation. Learning the technique and foundation, then applying it to new trendy levels. I feel that as a Mexican-American who appreciates the country my parents came from, we are always ahead of the trends. Most of the time unfortunately, it takes high profiled “influencers” to share such “trends” when these “trends” are a way of life to many of us.

I love that they are finally being appreciated because even if we see 1,000 ways of how you can incorporate birria into a dish, it is the popularity and educational part of the mainstream learning about our beloved birria.

When you pick ingredients what do you look for and what's the most important factor?

The seasons play a big part as far as the core goes. Asking “what’s in season?” is like bouncing ideas with mother nature. Next, I tackle origin, technique and nostalgia. As the cooking develops and ideas are set, I continue to look out for standout presentations or wow factors and that can be driven through textures and vision.

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