Sunday, May 19, 2024

"The first Mexican taco stand to get a Michelin star is a tiny business where the heat makes the meat"

From The Seattle Times, May 15:

Newly minted Michelin-starred chef Arturo Rivera Martínez stood over an insanely hot grill Wednesday at the first Mexican taco stand ever to get a coveted star from the French dining guide, and did exactly the same thing he’s been doing for 20 years: searing meat.

Though Michelin representatives came by Wednesday to present him with one of the company’s heavy, full-sleeved, pristine white chef’s jackets, he didn’t put it on: In this tiny, 10-foot by 10-foot (3-meter by 3-meter) business, the heat makes the meat. And the heat is intense.

At Mexico City’s Tacos El Califa de León, in the scruffy-bohemian San Rafael neighborhood, there are only four things on the menu, all tacos, and all of which came from some area around a cow’s rib, loin or fore shank.

“The secret is the simplicity of our taco. It has only a tortilla, red or green sauce, and that’s it. That, and the quality of the meat,” said Rivera Martínez. He’s also probably the only Michelin-starred chef who, when asked what beverage should accompany his food, answers “I like a Coke.”

It’s actually more complicated than that. El Califa de León is the only taco stand among the 16 Mexican restaurants given one star, as well as two eateries that got two stars. Almost all the rest are pretty darn posh eateries (hint: a lot of expensive seafood served in pretty shells on bespoke plates).

In fact, other than perhaps one street food stand in Bangkok, El Califa de León is probably the smallest restaurant ever to get a Michelin star: Half of the 100 square-foot (9.29 square-meter) space is taken up by a solid steel plate grill that’s hotter than the salsa.

The other half is packed with standing customers clutching plastic plates and ladling salsa, and the female assistant who rolls out the rounds of tortilla dough constantly.

In a way, El Califa de León is a tribute to resistance to change. It got there by doing exactly the same four things it has been doing since 1968....

....MUCH MORE, quite a story