Chef Gonzalo Colin Is Nostalgic About the Indigenous Mexican Technique of Tortilla-Making
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When it comes to making tortillas, there's only one way to do it -- and that's completely from scratch using indigenous Mexican techniques to make stone-ground Nixtamal tortillas, according to Mexico City native Chef Gonzalo Colin.
Chef Colin, who is now at the helm of Cantina Rooftop in Hell's Kitchen, New York, (the latest dining/social experience from Pedro Zamora) is igniting his fiery passion for his Mexican roots and artisanal approach to not only tortilla-making, but traditional Mexican cuisine with a modern twist.
La Señora del Comal (The Lady of the Griddle), a skilled culinary artisan dressed in traditional Mexican clothing, complements Chef Colin's savory dishes with her freshly made-in-house, stone-ground Nixtamal tortillas that she has down to a science.
Amid the picturesque Manhattan backdrop of the Cantina Rooftop, foodies can also watch La Señora del Comal surrounded by fresh ingredients, such as avocados, tomatoes and cilantro, making her signature guacamole and salsas as well as sweet "Mexican street corn."
"I spent a year traveling around the whole country of Mexico and one of the places that I fell in love with was Oaxaca (state in southern Mexico known for its indigenous cultures)," Chef Colin told Latin Post in an interview.
"When you go to the mercado (market) where you get your fresh vegetables, there was always a lady making fresh guacamole and tortillas and making sauces, like a ranchera sauce." Chef Colin therefore took this inspiration and recreated this experience at Cantina Rooftop.
Chef Colin, whose experience includes positions at Frankie & Johnnie's, City Bistro in Hoboken, Robert and Sequoia in New York City, points out that while many Mexican restaurants in New York have freshly made tortillas, they use "simple masa," which is just regular flour.
Instead Chef Colin goes the authentic, traditional route using dried corn, which is soaked for 12 hours, then boiled for another six hours, and then ground. The end result is the real "masa" (dough).
"Once you have the masa, you blend it with chicken broth, garlic, cumin and onion, and then you add it to the dough, or the masa to make an authentic Mexican tortilla," he explained.
"It's a whole process," he added. "We're not doing what many people are doing here which is just buying the flour, adding water, salt and mixing it."
Chef Colin recalled visiting his Abuelita (grandmother) in Mexico during the weekends where she would teach him her treasured, traditional cooking techniques (including how to make mole) and also showing him how to use a comal (griddle.)
"We would visit her on the weekends and she would make fresh tortillas," he recalled. "I used to wake up at 4 a.m. with my mother and grandma and go to where they would make the masa, the dough and then come back around 6 a.m. All the people from the town would go there to get their masa."
Chef Colin, who's all about that griddle and that bass (as there's always a DJ spinning tunes at Cantina Rooftop) incorporates a carefully crafted menu that includes Barbacoa de Carnero (maguey-braised lamb shank, consommé with guajillo sauce and comal corn tortillas) and Grilled Black Angus (arrachera steak with roasted potatoes, poblano peppers and charred asparagus).
He's also especially proud of his Pollo Campestre (chicken in Grandma's Mole Negro served with green rice).
"It's chocolate-based," he explained. "It's a traditional Mexican dish and to me it's one of my favorites."
Chef Colin's most popular and favorite dish to make is his Halibut Pibil, which is made with asparagus, white rice, and poached lobster in an Anchiote Américaine sauce with Curtido de Cebollin.
Also inspired by French cooking techniques, Chef Colin makes a point to incorporate the aforementioned Anchiote Américaine that is believed to have originated in Provence for it "has all the taste distinctions of that region, with its use of tomatoes, garlic and olive oil."
In addition, Chef Colin cooks up tasty tacos, tostaditas and ceviches as well as antojitos ("little cravings"). These creative small plates include "Crazy Shrimp," aka Camarones Locos (tequila fire Gulf shrimp, Mexican chile and spicy salt), and "Drunken Beans," aka Frijoles Borrachos (braised Berkshire pork belly, hoja santa, mezcal and Negra Modelo lager), as well as Enchiladitas Poblanos (pulled chicken, Grandma's Mole Negro and queso fresco.)
Also as homage to his beloved Mexico, Chef Colin implemented a practice often used at cantinas (bars) in Mexico where you get little tastings after your second drink.
To complement these yummy offerings, mixologist Jason Silverman (Agave, Mojave) serves up "imaginative and refreshing cocktails," highlighting margaritas with a unique tequila and mezcal list, including the acclaimed Clase Azul Tequila. Signature cocktails include the Cantina Margarita, made with Fidencio Mezcal, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar and Tajin spice rum; and the Tequila Sunset, with Tromba Blanco tequila, mango puree, lime juice, cava and Aperol.
With a medley of fresh and savory ingredients, traditional Mexican cooking skills and stone-ground Nixtamal tortilla-making, Chef Colin says that there is one "secret ingredient" and approach that makes each dish truly remarkable.
"How do you cook with love? When you think that the people you are cooking for is your family, that's the secret ingredient," he said. "It is more than food to the body; it is a way of feeding the soul, a dish at a time."
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