How Family and Heritage Inspires My Cooking

As told to Claudia Sofia Von.

I have always said that all I know is how to cook. I maintain this statement: I am merely a cook.

Life in the kitchen is not the easiest choice and many can’t stick with it; while it has a high price, it is the only life I know how to live. I was never able to see myself in an office desk, dressed up with a nice suit, holding my life inside of fancy briefcase. I was only fourteen when I got my first tattoo, but it was clear from that point forward that my path was different.

Having lived all my life in Toluca, I had to move to Mexico City to get an education. I went to Ambrosía — probably the best source of culinary education for cooks in México — and thanks to the lead of Federico López, I began to learn the extensive theories behind cooking. But when I graduated, I faced the shocking reality that many students face sooner than later: the real-world food industry is not looking for knowledgeable bachelors in gastronomy, rather the real-world industry is looking for ready-made cooks. And cooks, it seems, are not made in the classroom. Cooks are made in the kitchen.

Hopeless to find a job that could fulfill me, in clear competition with experienced cooks, I went back to Toluca and started a pastry studio, catering for different restaurants. But one day, a loyal client who owned a restaurant on Calle Francisco Murguía #402 told me that after too many years in the business, he had grown tired. The place was falling to pieces, not to say totally destroyed, but with the ease and the vision of a young guy that sees an opportunity in the face of hardship, I said: “I’ll buy it.”

The second shocking reality came when he accepted! I talked to my family and got their support. My dad resigned his job and sold everything he owned, and in 2004, we began to make my dream a reality. My family started a new adventure together with my dad as the director, my mom as the manager, my brother as the sommelier and floor manager, and me in the kitchen. We had a rough path ahead.

This adventure was my second greatest education after Ambrosía. Day by day, night by night, I learned new lessons. I learned the true value of a client that visits your restaurant for the first time and how hard is it to get him or her to come back, or to even recommend your place to a friend. Day by day, night by night, I learned the amazing value of the people that work with you and support you every day. I learned how hard is it to keep the motivation high through the challenges. After many hard steps, and many more tattoos, defying the empty days when we waited for someone — at least one person — to come into the restaurant, we finally managed to build a regular clientele. This was 2010.

Corn and pork in green sauce
Chef Pablo Salas and his family gather for a meal

Lucky enough, timing began to work in our favor, switching things up from hardship to fortune. That same year, I ended up as the runner-up in two national cooking contests and we began to improve our sales. Plus, a new adventure started: I had the chance to gain a deeper knowledge of the regional food from México State. Mexico State, or EdoMex, unlike México City, or CDMX, is a fusion of Mexico’s culinary bounty. Extending through 125 inner states, and surrounding the capital of our country, Mexico State is the affordable home to natives that have migrated from all of the various Mexican regions to work and spend their days in the hectic city. They might be unsuccessful in creating a life within CDMX, but they do on bringing their traditions, recipes and ingredients to enrich its borders.

Being part of this borderline in Toluca, it became our mission to reflect this culinary diversity. With a total reformation, we changed every aspect of the restaurant, from the name to the approach to the décor. This is how Amaranta was born.

Slowly, we watched as we helped revitalize the area in which we lived, creating new businesses and opportunities, even if they were not focused on regional cuisine. Their focus, however, and what they did, reflect the ethos that guides us in the state of Mexico, and that which I learned from my family. I learned the importance of true effort from my dad, Francisco; I learned the importance of persistence from my mother, Verónica. And as in many other families, this way of life, present in the building and maintenance of Amaranta, represents the learning and sacrifice of many people.

With Amaranta, we forged a path of opportunities that allowed us to showcase what we do and the cuisine of our region. We got recognition and have been able to grow further. And while that may be my family’s specific story, it started with the need to bolster the sense of pride about what binds us as mexiquenses, and owners of what is absolutely ours. In the end, I guess, it all comes back to this pride. The pride of the place where I can cook.


Amaranta

Francisco Murguía 402, Universidad
50130 Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico
+52 722 280 8265
www.amarantarestaurante.com

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