Passionate and full of energy, Chef Abraham Tamez is immensely appreciative of Mexican cuisine and the food memories of his past. His influences can be seen in the Mexico Box, and here we take a moment to speak with him to learn more!
Hello Chef! Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into cooking?
I started cooking while helping my grandma – Fausta – in our family kitchen when I was 4. I thank my Grandma Fausta for my passions, and some of my earliest memories are of preparing food with her. When my grandpa picked me up from school, my first question was always, “what’s for lunch?!” As soon as we’d arrive home, she’d have all of the ingredients and pots ready, so we could prepare everything in the big comal.
As a kid, my happiness came from knowing that every Saturday we would cook an amazing feast for family and friends. My grandparents and I would wake up while it was still dark to drive to the mercado (market), where my grandpa would order meat from the butcher, and I’d help select all the fresh vegetables for the meal. We’d eat from the vendors at the market, traditional Mexican dishes like pozole, quesadillas with mushrooms and epazote, menudo or barbacoa.
Returning home with all of the ingredients, we’d spend the rest of the day preparing food for 50 to 70 people. The banquet would be served in “barros,” like a buffet, with my grandma and the maid throwing the tortillas like frisbees, and I would stand on my chair so I could reach the stove, helping to prepare more food.
Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration, day by day, is the love and passion for what my grandma taught me, as well as for each ingredient. It’s important to treat the preparation with respect, from cutting the herbs in the garden to picking the best ingredients at the market, to the actual process of cooking. My passions are art, color, scent, flavor, texture, history and tradition. The kitchen is the one place I can blend all of these together, and it’s where I feel complete and happy.
How did you become the talented chef you are today?
When I was 18, I had the opportunity to study gastronomy under the supervision of recognized chefs. I also had the opportunity to open a restaurant with three friends in an upscale district in Mexico City. Our concept was lunch only, serving the traditional food of Mexico, and our market was all of the office workers at nearby business. The place was a success, which afforded me the opportunity to continue studying with different chefs. The following year, I had the opportunity to design the concept and for a restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, so I accepted and moved to this awesome place. I think it’s the best decision I’ve made in my life!
A year later, I was offered work at Fiesta Americana with Gerardo Rivera, one of the most important chefs in Mexico. I became his right hand, learning every detail of the cuisine, but more importantly, how to be a good chef and lead a team. There I was at age 25, sous chef at a big resort, in charge of 120 people. In the six years I worked there, I had great experiences, cooked for a lot of movie stars, musicians and other guests, but I will never forget being part of the G-20. Have the responsibility of cooking for presidents from all over the world gave me the confidence I needed to look for an executive position.
What is it about Mexican cuisine that it so special?
Mexican cuisine is a fusion of multiples cultures which involves a lot of gastronomy and religion. We go back more than 1,000 years in the history of food with the combination of indigenous people like Aztecas and Mayas, as well as with the union of Spanish, Lebanese, French, and Italian people. Mexico unites this – religion, historical moments, and culture – and exposes it in cooking.
Where do you work in Mexico? Do you have any side projects you’re working on?
I’m a chef consultant for Javiers restaurants, which are located in Newport Beach, Las Vegas, Cabo San Lucas, and will be opening soon in Beverly Hills and La Joya. I’m working also on my own restaurant with my signature dishes, which will be named Metate and will be located in Cabo San Lucas.
What’s your favorite dish?
My favorite dish is definitely mole. I think it is because I learned from my grandma about how elaborate the preparation of mole is. Every family has its own recipe which goes from generation to generation. When it comes to specific ingredients, my favorites are the many chilies we have, ranging from very spicy to sweet, smoky, and strong flavors.
Are there any food-centric Mexican traditions or customs?
There are many! One is that every season of the year we have traditional dishes, such as Chiles en nogadas in September, which celebrates the independence of Mexico from Spain. Another one is the “day of the deaths,” which we celebrate with a food altar for our loved ones who have passed. We enjoy all of their favorite foods on that day.