Passion, enthusiasm and no small measure of hard graft. Combine these three ingredients and the result is a career out of the pages of a picture book: just like Jorge Vallejo’s, who discovered his love of cooking and Mexican cuisine as a teenager. With his degree from the Instituto Culinario de México in hand, Vallejo set out for the high seas. In the galley of the Princess Cruises ships he cooked his way around the Caribbean, across the Atlantic and even across Antarctica.
When he was back on dry land, he flitted between a variety of cuisines before finally dropping anchor in the hallowed kitchen of the world-famous Noma in Copenhagen. But even this stay was short-lived: in 2012 he went back to his roots. He returned to Mexico to open the Quintonil restaurant in Mexico City together with his wife Alejandra Flores.
Upon entering the restaurant, diners are led through a narrow dining room into a large, light-filled space with leaf-adorned walls that make you feel as if you are sat in the middle of a garden. This is extremely fitting as a great deal of the produce used by Vallejo and his team originates directly from the nearby garden, with a large proportion of the vegetables served at Quintonil making a journey of just 30 metres. The atmosphere is relaxed yet elegant – perfect for any occasion from a business meeting to special celebrations. And it is this that placed the restaurant at number 12 on the list of ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ in 2016 – the highest position ever achieved by a Mexican restaurant.
The Quintonil reflects the spirit of Mexico not in its recipes or traditions but solely in its produce: local ingredients are right at the top of Vallejo’s shopping list – ingredients which he combines using innovative cooking techniques to give a new twist on Mexican cuisine. “It’s not about how we did things 300 years ago, but how we do it here and now,” the chef, who was named the ‘World’s Rising Star’ by FOUR magazine in 2014, explains.
The most famous dish at Quintonil embodies this perfectly: salbute – a traditional Mexican tortilla filled with meat, vegetables and cuitlacoche, also known as Mexican truffle.
This delicacy consists of a black-coloured fungus that grows in corn husks and possesses an utterly unique flavour. But that is not actually Vallejo’s favourite dish. Instead, it is huazontles – a Mexican vegetable – cooked two ways with cheese from Chiapas, tomato salsa and habanero chilli.
This dish represents Mexico through the choice of ingredients yet takes on an innovative, unique character through new preparation methods.
Those who wish to delve into the flavours of Vallejo’s creations will get the chance in September 2017, when the chef will be in residence as guest chef at Restaurant Ikarus in Hangar-7.
ServusTV: Culinary Heights at Ikarus on ServusTV
Each month at Salzburg’s two Michelin-starred Restaurant Ikarus, a different top international chef creates the menu. For this globally unique concept, Hangar-7 executive chef Martin Klein visits the cream of the crop, takes a look behind the scenes of haute cuisine, and is let in on some exciting culinary secrets. “Culinary Heights at Ikarus” offers a unique glimpse into the world of high-end cuisine and provides an interesting portrait of each guest chef, their culinary philosophy, and the food culture of their country.