For Chef Diego Hernandez, regional Mexican cuisine is in the soul, from the soil
Valle de Guadalupe is a gorgeous wine region in Baja, Mexico, getting a name for itself due in part to the accolades of Chef Diego Hernandez and his restaurant Corrazon de Tierra, listed at #34 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Respect for region, soil and vine is at the core of his cooking and he brings that same philosophy to his other restaurants- Mur Mur in Tulum, Mexico and Verlaine, in Los Angeles.
Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?
Chef Hernandez: Mexico is a very vast country, in territory, geography, and of course culture. The forms and customs of a Mexican from the south are very different from those of a Mexican from the north, so it’s important to know that we are a country of regions. We like to say that Mexican cuisine does not exist; what exists are the regional Mexican cuisines. These regional kitchens are based on their environment and temporality so reproducing them outside these conditions, gives birth to bastardized versions with little relevance or cultural value. We’re located in a wine-growing valley so at Corazon de Tierra we take these principles to make a regional Mexican cuisine rooted in wine. We take care of the earth, making temporary crops and assisted crops, stressing the plants a bit to achieve more extraction of flavor from the soil. The vegetables from our vegetables garden always know our land. Understanding the value of climate, soil and temporality we use the product according to its stage of development. For example, the end of summer tomato in its first three weeks, has thinner skin and much more juice, so we use it raw. The tomato of the following three weeks loses water and its skin thickens, so we cook it lightly or process a little more. In the last stage of the tomato it becomes a more suitable fruit to make stews or can be preserved, transforming into something more firm. In this way we let nature direct our techniques and modify our menus. This is our regional cuisine.
Aspire Lifestyles: What is the most important value you teach to your kitchen team?
Chef Hernandez: That too much technique messes up creativity, have respect for nature and look for the essential and the intention.
Aspire Lifestyles: When friends come to the city, where do you take them, both for dinner and for a privileged view of Valle de Guadalupe?
Chef Hernandez: Laja, Fauna, Deckman’s, Malva and Finca Altozano are the most frequent, I also take them to Ensenada, because Manzanilla is a must-see restaurant.
Aspire Lifestyles: What has been your most memorable food destination (city / country)? Why?
Chef Hernandez: Oaxaca, Mexico. It is a place full of inspiration and deep roots it is a unique society with different ways of being. They have enviable ingredients, unique and unknown techniques and magic throughout their kitchen.
Aspire Lifestyles: You have the possibility to take 5 chefs to dinner at any restaurant in the world. What chefs would you take with you and where? Why these chefs and why that restaurant?
Chef Hernandez: Michel Bras, Jeremy Fox, Rene Redzepi, Jeremiah Towers and Dan Barber, are chefs who in my opinion understand this profession in a very passionate way. This makes them able to see that the root of all our work is in nature. Conserving nature is the first duty of a cook and when you understand this, you force yourself to respect it, not only in its environment but in its transformation processes in the kitchen, and this results in these unique and incredible kitchens that are full of life.
I would take them to eat somewhere without any pretension, maybe to eat some good tacos where they let us uncover some bottles of wine and only share discoveries about kitchens, plants and farms, investigate their brains a bit.
Aspire Lifestyles: How has it changed in your life to belong to the list of the 50 best restaurants in Latin America?
Chef Hernandez: It is a great responsibility because the perception of the clientele is always more critical than when you are the new kid in the block; you are forced to continue educating and learning, improving. At the beginning it is more difficult than before, because expectations are higher, but with time it is always better for everyone. We have a lot of work in the restaurant, they invite us to share our cuisine to many places and the reach of our clientele is wider. As long as I continue to bring gastronomic tourism to the valley of Guadalupe I think it is also good for our community.
Aspire Lifestyles: Corazon de Tierra is located in the Valle de Guadalupe wine region. How much attention and consideration do you put in wine pairing when creating dishes and your overall menu?
Chef Hernandez: Corazon is not only in the wine area, it is also inside the wine estate Vena Cava.
Vena Cava is one of the best wine houses in Mexico, has a small-scale production of methode champenoise sparkling wine and the best amber skin contact wine in the country. The first year of Corazon we only served wine from Vena Cava, but it was very difficult to pair, so from the second year we opened the wine list to include Baja California wines. We made special emphasis on organic, bio dynamic, natural wines and very small productions, to make it special. This year we realized Corazon must go to the next level so we have decided to start a more serious wine collection with wines from around the world, without losing focus. Our pairings are somewhat eclectic, so you find wines, beers, infusions and liqueurs.
Aspire Lifestyles: Being that products are different in Mexico than other wine regions throughout the world, are there any ingredients that you have found that pair beautifully with wine?
Chef Hernandez: Our concept was born of wine; the region where we are was developed by wine and the wine culture has always guided us. We treat the plants in our garden as the vine is treated, administering little water to force it to look for water in the subsoil and achieve greater flavor extraction of the terroir. For this reason our vegetables are so special, they come from wine.
The soil in the Valley of Guadeloupe is mineral rich which is felt in the wines and in our vegetables, making it easier to pair because they already share a background flavor.
In addition we look for animals that feed mainly on pasture and grain grown in the valley in a natural way. This flavor is printed in everything we do.
Aspire Lifestyles: You are the executive chef at restaurant Mur Mur in Tulum, outside of Cancun and Verlaine in Los Angeles. How similar or different are the cuisines here to the cuisine at Corazon de Tierra?
The approach to food is the same, buy local, buy natural, learn to work around what’s available, be creative and make food have a sense of place. We don’t think about a dish and then gather the ingredients for it. We first gather the ingredients and then we see what to do with them, so everything is a consequence of its own reality.
For example in Corazon we have a vegetable patch, we grow most of our stuff and everything tastes like that region, mineral, dry, ocean-y. At Mur Mur we are in the jungle where the most delicious things are fruits, so the food in murmur tastes like the jungle. At Corazon we barely use fruits, maybe on some desserts but only one fruit that is in season at a time. At Mur Mur there are fruits and colors everywhere.
LA’s behavior is different because you have a lot of everything, all good year round, so how do you pick what’s best? It takes more time and more education, because most stuff is beautiful and so well done, but laws there allow a lot to be labeled as the same even if they are not. So here in LA, you really have to taste everything, talk to the farmers and visit the farms to see if this is what you are looking for, like everywhere, but it takes so much time. it’s a lot.
Choosing the best carrot in Mexico is much easier, you only have a few options to pick from and spotting the right one is much easier. Because the infrastructure in most farms is not high end, they have to stick to the traditional farming processes which is much more healthy and sustainable. Most products taste great but also there are some that are very bad, but they look bad too, so it’s easier.