Edson Diaz-Fuentes, chef-patron of Santo Remedio, tells Emma Lake about bringing traditional Mexican cuisine to London through supper clubs, opening his first restaurant in Shoreditch and relocating to London Bridge
You moved from Mexico to New York and then London – what did you think of the Mexican food offering in the UK?
There was a lack of the food I had in Mexico and that had been available in New York. I thought we needed to do something. We hosted pop-ups at our flat in Shoreditch and had a series of Street Feast residencies serving tacos. People still have a perception that Mexican food is burritos, chimichangas and fajitas – I have never had those at the dinner table, never.
How do you work around the difficulties of sourcing some ingredients from Mexico?
The lack of fresh chilli is difficult. The jalapeños from the Netherlands, France or Spain don't taste the same because of the lack of sunshine. We buy lots of dried chilli from Mexico: jalapeño, chipotle, pasilla de Oaxaca, chipotle meco and morita. We try to get as many Mexican ingredients as possible, but we are also using lots of local and fresh produce from Covent Garden market and the Ginger Pig, etc. We have to be flexible and adapt the recipes.
Have you adapted dishes to the London audience?
I try to replicate traditional recipes, but there are a lot of things we don't do the same way as in Mexico. One of our best dishes is the short rib with mole. It comes with plantain and tortillas, so you can make your own tacos. In Mexico, it's just like that – you put the main protein at the table and everyone makes their own tacos. But with mole, most people have turkey or chicken. Here we offer it sometimes with duck, but mostly with short rib. It's not very traditional – you will never see that in Mexico – but the combination works, so everyone's happy.
Have you been able to find Mexican chefs in London?
It's difficult to find Mexican chefs, but it's satisfying to see different cultures becoming immersed in Mexican food. In the kitchen we have Mexican, British, Canadian, Italian and Colombian chefs. One of the challenges is when I ask if they are familiar with Mexican food, it's "oh yeah, I love burritos". Sadly, and luckily, you are not going to have burritos here. It's a change of mindset to see Mexican food in a different way.
What does the future hold?
I think we're still at the beginning of what we can do with Mexican food in London. At Santo Remedio we want to keep evolving. I don't think we will get bored of Mexican food in the UK – the challenge is the ingredients and the training. I want to bring some members of the team to Mexico. I have a plan to have more formal training in Mexico for our employees – I think that's vital. It's difficult because we're quite low on resources, but that's something I really want to do as part of business development.
Can we expect any more restaurants?
I would love to do more restaurants. I would love to adapt, not to replicate. We want to have an understanding of the neighbourhood and offer something different. We are searching for interesting sites.
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