Jair Téllez is feeling the heat. That’s because the 43 year-old chef, a pioneer of Baja California cuisine and one of the front-runners in Mexico City’s dizzying rise as a top culinary destination, is about to open a new restaurant.
Téllez, born in the northwest state of Sonora, which encompasses both desert and coastline, has directed his much lauded Laja in Ensenada for 13 years, while at the same time introducing Mexico City to the West Coast’s bright surf and turf cooking at Merotoro. Both venues have made appearances on the San Pellegrino Latin America’s 50 Best list and feature creative menus that reflect Tellez’ unique vision of Mexican cooking.
The chef is based in Mexico City now, but travels frequently to the coast, a 3-hour flight, to keep an eye on Laja. While content as executive chef of Merotoro, which is located in the fashionable Condesa neighborhood, he felt it was time to move on. Recently remarried to Milena Pezzi, he is eager to share his plans and speaks with heated enthusiasm: “At my age there’s still time and energy to move, to expand. I spent my 20’s and 30’s working and partying hard as well, but now I want to settle down and really apply myself to something – this is my dream place.”
The new venue, called Amaya, his mother’s last name, is in the increasingly hot restaurant zone Colonia Juarez. It’s near Paseo de la Reforma, the main artery of the city and is accessible to both residential and business areas. “It’s not going to be very formal, because I’m not,” he promises. “A Spanishy-urban-Mexican cantina – a strong wine and cocktail bar where you can go early have a coffee, if you’re hung over have a drink, then come back for lunch, dinner. Like a bar in Spain.”
Téllez, like many entrepreneurs, chose Juarez as the location because real estate there is a bit cheaper and Colonias Roma, Condesa and Polanco are saturated.Other established chefs who have recently inaugurated venues there include Lalo García of Máximo Bistrot (Havre 77) and Maycoll Calderón of Huset (Hanky Panky) and Roberto Alcocer (Sole); Elena Reygadas’ Rosetta Panadería is already ensconced.
Thrilled with the expanding and improving fine dining scene which has expanded beyond the borders of the capital, the chef explains, “I left Baja California because I didn’t feel so connected to it. Mexico City is becoming more cosmopolitan. I was one of the first to come from the outside and had to work with people to make them accept other kinds of food. People are now more willing to try new things.”
He started a trend that took years to catch on: two recent openings, much ballyhooed, featuring Baja cooking are Tomás Bermudez’ La Docena and Diego Hernandez’ Conchita Cocina, both in Colonia Roma. “The city is tipping over, more people are taking chances. There are fewer bad places. Before, restaurateurs were not willing to take risks.” He acknowledges that there are great young chefs emerging from the culinary schools and he wants to work with them.
“You have to be emotionally involved in what you do as a cook – some guys aren’t, even when they are behind their stoves. I need to remind myself what moves and motivates me. So many new places have opened this year that are setting high standards – in 3 or 4 years this city will be at an exciting new level. And I want to be part of it.”