The suppliers riding the Mexican wave

06 March 2024 by

Authenticity is key in Mexican offerings, and suppliers are stepping up with traditional and inventive products. Clare Nicholls reports

Hospitality operators are becoming increasingly aware of the appeal of Mexican food, with its playful flavours, photogenic dishes and use of fresh produce, as well as the healthy revenue opportunities it offers.

Indeed, there has been an explosion of Mexican outlets in the UK over the past 20 years, bringing a more authentic version of the cuisine to high streets. Thomasina Miers was a forerunner with the creation of Wahaca in London in 2007, with El Pastor joining the fray in 2016. Madre spread the Mexican wave to Liverpool in 2019 and Manchester in 2023, while higher-end restaurants Kol and Cavita opened in London in 2020 and 2022 respectively.

Kol's Santiago Lastra
Kol's Santiago Lastra

One of the secrets to Kol's success as the UK's first Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant is championing British ingredients, with its no-imports rule meaning no avocado or lime. Chef patron Santiago Lastra says: "Kol means cabbage and we want to show that things that are undervalued can be special if you put them in the right context. Running a Michelin-starred restaurant is directly related to quality, and quality means consistency."

But with hospitality staffing shortages affecting all business owners, Lastra needed all the help he could get to ensure uniformity of quality, so he opted for Rational's iCombi Pro combi-steamer 6 1/1 and the iVario Pro L multifunctional cooking system with pressure. "The Rational cooking systems help us get that consistency by using the pre-set programs, so our staff can access recipes and processes all the time," he adds.

Mission Foods Mexican beef and guacamole burritos
Mission Foods Mexican beef and guacamole burritos

Authentic appetite

CGA and Bidfood's 2024 Food and Drink Trends consumer survey indicates that demand for Mexican food is still strong, as 44% of respondents have already tried the cuisine. However, going beyond well-known menu items such as fajitas, burritos and quesadillas could prove a draw for operators, with the report finding that 62% of consumers rate the authenticity of a dish as important when eating out.

According to Rhia Harry, senior research and insights executive at Bidfood: "Getting your offering right starts with stocking the right ingredients, especially as 52% of consumers evaluate the authenticity of a dish based on the ingredients. Staples such as dried pinto beans and taco shells, as well as products to make sauces such as sweet chilli, orange paste, limes and supreme guacamole, are key."

Other ingredients passed down the generations in Mexico include corn and maize, the latter of which is the primary constituent in dishes such as hard tacos and stews. Harry says: "Tamales is another signature dish featuring corn, but in the form of a corn dough. It's prepared by meat being wrapped and steamed in either corn husk or banana leaves."

Olivier Briault, development chef at supplier Maple from Canada UK, also notes a growing interest in traditional dishes. "It's thrilling to witness the surge of interest in Mexican cuisine," he says. "The vibrant and diverse flavours, the visually captivating presentations and the commitment to fresh, quality ingredients make Mexican food a culinary journey that truly resonates with people's palates."

Mex to go

Contract caterer Eurest, part of the Compass Group, created a Mexican pop-up concept called ‘Casa Loco'. This takes traditional Mexican favourites, like burritos or tacos, and adapts them to create flavoursome, nutritious meals that are easy to eat. Jason Trotman, Eurest's head of culinary operations, business and industry, says: "To appeal to a wider audience, we made sure to include a variety of meal options that can be enjoyed on the move or in one of our workplace restaurants. The hand-held nature of many Mexican dishes makes them a perfect food-to-go option. As a workplace caterer, this works well for our customers who are often looking for something quick during a busy day."

Santa Maria nachos
Santa Maria nachos

Mexican food supplier Santa Maria's taste creator Barnaby MacAdam feels burritos are the perfect grab-and-go option. He says: "Not only are the options endless, but the formats in which burritos are served are vast too. They can be wrapped in foil to be eaten on the go, pre-prepared to suit busy service times or freshly made in front of the customer, giving them the option to load up with extra toppings or swap in their favourites."

He adds that while slow-cooked birria beef or chicken tinga are classics, operators can offer vegetarian fillings such as mushrooms marinated in ancho chilli, topped with feta cheese and guacamole: "The beauty of Mexican food is it's bang on trend, is incredibly versatile and can work across numerous dayparts," he says.

Hot list

Operators are clearly responding to this call for more Mexican variety, with seasoning supplier Lähde, an EHL Ingredients brand, reporting that demand has increased for Mexican chillies. Kath Davies, new product development manager, advises: "In an increasingly competitive marketplace, where consumers are more discerning and health-conscious than ever before, chefs and caterers need to invest in a quality selection of Mexican ingredients, including herbs and spices, to ensure they are offering innovative flavours."

Using new ingredients doesn't have to mean added labour or skills in the kitchen, as flavours can come from pre-made sauces, seasonings and pastes. The Flava People is one such provider, with managing director Scott Dixon commenting: "Diners won't want to eat tweaked versions of the same dishes they're more than comfortable cooking up at home – they want flavours and textures they haven't tried yet, like sweet-hot honey chipotle, smoky ancho or spicy-crispy salsa macha. The dishes that take extra effort to cook – birria tacos, pork pibil, lamb barbacoa or chipotle short ribs – are the ones people are seeking out."

Sauce supplier Major International believes pre-made products can also help ensure consistency and quality. Marketing manager Paul Saunders stresses that with companies like his providing free-from recipes can help ensure menus are suitable for those with dietary needs.

Santa Maria Korean barbecue chicken burrito
Santa Maria Korean barbecue chicken burrito

All of Mission Foods' wraps and flatbreads are vegetarian and many are vegan. Julie Stevens, head of marketing for UK and Ireland, says: "Each wrap or flatbread complements a variety of traditional Mexican dishes that will appeal to this growing group of consumers."

Mexican produce specialist Mexgrocer has recently branched out into importing La Fonda's new cornflour soft tortilla, made from blue and yellow nixtamalised corn. The traditional Central American maize processing method involves dried kernels being cooked and steeped in an alkaline solution, usually water and food-grade lime (calcium hydroxide). This not only lengthens shelf life but also has nutritional benefits such as increasing calcium intake and resistant starch content.

With the UK Mexican food picture being so rosy, and considering the myriad of dishes and ingredients available to experiment with, there has never been a better time for chefs to embrace this type of cuisine.

!" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Mission Foods breakfast huevos rancheros

Cactus tostada and mole negro in demand at Ixchel

Head chef at London's Ixchel, Ximena Gayosso Gonzalez, says the most popular dishes since the Chelsea venue's opening in late 2023 include a crab macha tostada starter and a braised short rib main course.

"The short rib is a very generous portion. The fact that it has been cooked for more than 15 hours is very attractive for our diners, as they know it will melt when we shred it in front of their eyes," she says. She describes the crab tostada as being "fresh, nutty and slightly spicy from the chillies in the macha sauce", and adds that macha is very popular outside Mexico as it complements many different dishes.

In terms of Mexican ingredient must-haves, Gonzalez says all kinds of chillies, fresh or dried, are essential bases for Ixchel's salsas. For example, in January, the site showcased mole negro as its special monthly dish, a rich salsa combining more than 15 ingredients that are burned to create its black colouring.

Menu development is constant for Gonzalez, and she is soon planning to add cactus tostada, using prickly pear cactus, to her lunch menu.

"The taste reminds me of back home in Mexico City," she says. "It's a perfect option for vegetarians and people who want to explore different Mexican flavours."

Beyond Meat spicy chipotle steak fajitas

Serves 1

For the fajita seasoning

  • 1tbs chipotle paste
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1tsp smoked paprika
  • 1tsp garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1tbs vegetable oil

For the creamy avocado sauce

  • ½ avocado
  • 2tbs plant-based yogurt
  • 2tsp lime juice
  • ¼ lime, zested
  • 2tbs coriander, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the fajita

  • 1tbs vegetable oil
  • 100g pepper, finely sliced
  • ½ red onion, finely sliced
  • 80g Beyond Steak
  • 2 tortilla wraps

Make the fajita seasoning by combining all the ingredients. Cover and keep refrigerated until required.

Make the creamy avocado sauce by blitzing all the ingredients in a blender.

If you want the sauce a bit runnier, add a tablespoon of cold water. Place into a container and add a piece of clingfilm directly on top to prevent discolouring. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Place a pan on a medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the sliced peppers and cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the sliced red onion and cook for a further minute. Add the Beyond Steak and fajita seasoning along with 1-2tbsp of water, and cook for about five minutes, stirring frequently. Place the fajita filling in a bowl and serve alongside tortilla wraps and the creamy avocado sauce.




Maple from


The Flava

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