In the second part of our 50 Best Home Cooking series, presented by Miele, we go inside chef Jorge Vallejo’s home in Mexico City to find out about his childhood food memories, exercise routines and how he balances family time with life at restaurant Quintonil.
Read the interview below, then watch the video and discover the recipe for his signature chicken casserole.
The dish that most reminds me of my childhood is huauzontles with fresh cheese and tomato. Roast chicken, noodle soup and salpicón salad also bring back my childhood, as well as simple dishes like mole with chilacayotes. I make dishes like huauzontles and chilacayotes at Quintonil because they’re the ones that remind me of who I am and where I came from.
We named the restaurant after a herb called quintonil. It’s the indigenous name of a quelite, the term we use for green herbs.
Growing up, nobody in my family cooked for a living or professionally. My grandmother instilled in me the love of cooking for loved ones. She was also the one who inspired me to become a chef.
Unfortunately, my parents separated when I was a young child. They didn’t cook a lot in my house so I grew up eating out a lot, quite often at my grandparents’ house. That’s really where I got the chance to eat home-cooked meals.
More than heroes, growing up I had people I admired: my grandmother, my parents, my mother. They were the people who worked really hard to see us through. I also had sporting heroes, such as [road racing cyclists] Marco Pantani and Miguel Induráin. They are models of success in their own right and I try to do the same in my work by doing the things I like most at the highest possible level.
When I’m not at the restaurant, I love riding my bicycle. I enjoy swimming, spending time with my family, going to the cinema with my wife, Ale, and spending time with my daughter, Estela. I’m a simple, easy-to-please guy. I don’t like to do exotic or extravagant things.
I grew up in Mexico City. I’ve lived here all my life and I love this city.
I’m really fortunate to be able to have a life where both my work and family life go hand in hand. My wife works with me at Quintonil and my daughter also spends a lot of time there because her school is just around the corner, so my family life is really intertwined with the restaurant. Even my dogs are there every day. That’s what has given the restaurant its sense of community. We call ourselves the Quintonil family because we really do feel like a family.
When I have the opportunity to cook at home, I cook with whatever ingredients we have available, such as the deliveries we get from Yolcan each week and those we find in the market or from our suppliers. I bring them home from work and that’s what we cook.
Vallejo and the Quintonil team
I don’t really follow a recipe book. I prefer to just take the ingredients we have and make simple things that are nutritious, easy to eat and easy to enjoy.
Part of what’s so great about Mexican cuisine is its diversity. We are very fortunate to come from such a rich and diverse country, culturally and gastronomically. What people need to understand about Mexican cuisine is that due to Mexico’s geographical vastness there is still a lot to discover. We have a mission to explore our origins and traditions, and share them with the world.
It’s important to look after our ancestral techniques and to preserve cooking methods that have been used in Mexico for such a long time. It’s a reason to celebrate them every day, to take advantage of them, because they are, in a way, what forged a culture, a tradition, a gastronomic heritage. It’s essential to preserve them in order to move forward.
When I’m not at the restaurant, I try to be at home with my family. We have a patio where I play with the dogs, or I play with Estela and Ale. It’s a space where you don’t feel like you are in the city but more like in your own private space.
It’s important for me that my daughter has the opportunity to try healthy dishes that make her feel good and make her feel the love I have for her. It’s super important that my family, as well as the people around me and those who have the opportunity to eat these ingredients, can be in touch with the local produce from their region.
Beyond being delicious, which is essential, the food we eat has to be nutritious and has to be right for the wellbeing of our families.
We, as Mexican chefs, are fortunate to have the opportunity to learn new things every day about who we are, and that adds a unique value to our cuisine. There is always something to learn, there is always a new ingredient that we can explore.
Go inside Jorge’s home to watch him prepare his signature chicken casserole:
Now go inside Ana Ros’s home at Hisa Franko in Slovenia and stay tuned for more videos in the Home Cooking series, presented by Miele: