The 50 Best BBVA Scholarship 2019 – which is currently open to entries – will give a talented aspiring chef the opportunity to undertake stages at restaurants Odette in Singapore, Core by Clare Smyth in London and Quintonil in Mexico City.
Jorge Vallejo and Alejandra Flores are the husband-and-wife duo behind Quintonil, the contemporary Mexican restaurant that was voted No.11 at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018. We find out why the pair want to inspire the new generation of culinary talent.
Jorge Vallejo and Alejandra Flores have been working together since 2012, when they opened their first restaurant, Quintonil, in Mexico City. For six years, they have been riding a wave of positive recognition for Mexican cuisine, pushing for its flavours and techniques to appear on the world’s culinary stage with their authentic, produce-based offer.
With Vallejo in the kitchen and Flores in charge of the dining room and administration – two national leaders in their respective fields – Quintonil was quick to make appearances on the Latin America’s and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants lists, becoming the highest ranked Mexico-based restaurant in the global list with a No.11 spot earlier in 2018.
Now, the Mexican power couple is preparing to welcome the winner of the 50 Best BBVA Scholarship 2019, for which entries are open until Wednesday 19th December. The recipient will have the chance to work alongside the award-winning team at Quintonil for six weeks, as well as to undertake two further restaurant stages between June and November 2019 in the kitchens of restaurants Odette in Singapore and Core by Clare Smyth in London, UK.
“[The Scholarship] fills us with satisfaction and commitment,” says Vallejo. ”We want to be a driving force for inspiration to the person who will come to work with us – to be a good school of life. We are ready to take on the role and we have a desire to teach new things.
“This is a commitment that we undertake with all seriousness. We want the recipient to have a good time, to work and to give it all they have. We hope they will take away good memories of us.”
The Quintonil 'family' with Flores and Vallejo
For the couple, both under 40, the memories of their time as hopeful cooks – learning the trade, doing stages and finding their own style – are still fresh. Vallejo and Flores say that over the course of their careers, they have learnt that you need a large dose of passion to be a great chef.
“Vocation is very important. It's always good to support the people in whom you find that same passion to make people happy, which is the definition of what it is to be a cook: to feed people, to make them happy and to make them have a great time,” says Vallejo.
When thinking about desirable qualities in an aspiring chef, both have to admit that the job is hard work – aside from running the restaurant together, Vallejo and Flores have a two-year-old daughter and they divide their time between restaurant and family. In order to make it work, they believe it is paramount to work as a team.
“It’s important to have a willingness to learn and to keep your feet on the ground,” says Vallejo. “You have to be willing to give everything to your team, because this job is 100% teamwork.”
At their restaurant – which offers a contemporary take on Mexican food, from crab tostadas to charred avocado tartare and escamoles (ant eggs) – Vallejo and Flores strive to convey their philosophy to Quintonil’s brigade of cooks, waiters and sommeliers, focusing on the notion that diners are more than customers.
Barbecued potatoes in a grasshopper 'adobo' sauce with nixtamalised ayocote and vaquita beans
“We want to receive customers and say goodbye to friends. That is our main motivation, to have the opportunity to serve people every day and to live every day with those who work with us, who are part of our family. To be able to stand shoulder to shoulder every day working with a common goal – that fills us with pride,” says Vallejo.
For all the aspiring cooks around the world, the talented couple has some advice. “Pour your heart and soul into it. Sweat, give your best and never give up,” says Flores. Vallejo is equally encouraging to aspiring chefs. “It doesn’t matter what your dream is, if you fight for it every day, inevitably it will come true.”
Both Vallejo and Flores started their careers doing stages – Flores remembers her time at restaurant Italianni’s in Mexico City as an extremely formative period during which she learnt that the hospitality experience is just as important as the culinary offer. Vallejo, on the other hand, credits his experiences in different types of restaurants – from taverns to cruise ships and well-known establishments such as Noma – as having enriched his culinary education, although he finds that there is a common thread.
“I’ve been a cook for 20 years – I started very young, at 16, working at a tavern. Having worked in different kinds of restaurants, the most important thing I learnt during my first few years in the profession is discipline,” he says. “You will find willpower, team work and discipline in all great kitchens across the world.”
Header images: Vallejo and Flores at Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2018; nixtamalised tomato and sweet onion reduction
Applications to the 50 Best BBVA Scholarship 2019 are open until Wednesday 19th December to chefs with less than three years’ experience in a professional kitchen. Apply now on the Scholarship portal.
Stay tuned to our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels for the latest 50 Best news and subscribe to our YouTube channel for videos.