Chef Jonatán Gómez-Luna – Knowing their origin, but cooking their destiny at Le Chique

One of the most progressive restaurants in the world is located in one of the most unlikely areas – the resort town of Riviera Maya, Mexico. Le Chique, with its kitchen led by Chef Jonatán Gómez-Luna, takes the molecular cooking techniques he learned while working with some of the greats in Europe, and applies them to the ingredients and spices of Mexico. Placing #32 on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2019, his dishes look part science project and part work of art, bursting with unique flavor combinations that his guests have never yet experienced. Aspire Lifestyles’ Director of Dining, Ann Hill, was able to learn more about Chef Gómez-Luna’s passion for Mexican ingredients, his drive to pay it forward by mentoring up-coming chefs, and his secret talent as a rock drummer.

Aspire Lifestyles: What do you want the world to know about the cuisine of your country and the cuisine of your restaurant?

Jonatán Gómez-Luna: We want our guests to truly understand the great variety and flavors of Mexican cuisine; its multiple regions and cuisines from each, and demystify that it is the spicy or the poorly traveled Mexican food as it is known in other countries (burritos, quesadillas or nachos). We can show that the kitchen of Le Chique, which bases this delicious cuisine in a 21st Century context, always carries the motto of technique at the service of taste.

AL: What progress have you seen during the span of your career so far? What would you like to see happen, and how are you becoming part of that evolution?

JG-L: A lot. Every cook and kitchen mature with time, and that is progress. A state of maturation that continues today and into the future. The evolution cannot stop. Every cook wants his kitchen to adopt a cause and direction, to make his voice stronger and that happens only with time, maturity and evolution. I’m not looking for anything specific. We like to search and investigate, not push creativity. Evolution happens with work, silence, time and passion.

AL: Many of your culinary team are interns have the incredible opportunity to learn from you what you learned at some of the most iconic restaurants in Europe – including El Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca, and Noma. What is the most important value in cooking that you teach and stress to your kitchen team?

JG-L: For me it was the best way to grow and learn, to see the best and learn from the best, no matter how much time was spent in their kitchens. In some, it was very little and in others, more. I went through more kitchens than is named here, like Quique da Costa or Can Bosch. I learned something from each, but in all, there is something in common – respect and passion for cooking.

We want the same from our kitchen, to inspire and help all the young cooks who spend year after year in our kitchens. To discover in the kitchen that silence, precision, detail, the hours, the time and the meticulousness with which we do everything has a reason.

AL: You are one of, if not the only chef in Mexico doing molecular gastronomy. In an area known for all-inclusive resorts, what is the reaction of guests who aren’t familiar or weren’t expecting cooking at this level?

JG-L: Making avant-garde cuisine is already complicated, so doing it in an area where, as you mention, no one else or few do it, was complicated at the beginning. Now everything is much better, not easier, but better. People already know of it and the location so they make the trip for the experience. It’s a different type of travel – a gastro destination or gastro-tourism, which didn’t exist 11 years ago. Our guests from outside the hotel and in general throughout the world are changing and are more interested in good eating and drinking, something that helps both the industry and chefs. There is more demand and a higher level of knowledge so more of a comfort zone.

AL: What has been your most memorable food destination and why?

JG-L: Mexico without a doubt is my destiny to travel and enjoy eating. I still have a long way to go and get to know this huge and great gastronomy. If I had to choose outside of Mexico, I would say that I love Spain, France, and Belgium. I had a couple of memorable dinners in Denmark too. I’m a very curious cook and glutton; I like to try everything. It’s difficult to decide on a single place but perhaps the most memorable dinner of my life was at El Celler de Can Roca with my wife.

AL: You cook with ingredients that are exclusively Mexican and dishes are reinterpreted versions of regional specialties throughout Mexico. Can you speak about your research and development process?

JG-L: We always look for each season to tell a story, one that we want to tell. We travel a lot and this year we want to focus more on what is around us. The Yucatan Peninsula is huge with ingredients for an endemic and delicious cuisine. There is always a blackboard full of ideas and tests, along with many ingredients and suppliers. It’s a method of search, trial, and error. Technique must be at the service of taste, where harmony and balance must be precise and exact.

AL: What has been the most interesting ingredient, technique or dish that you have experienced while traveling that has inspired your cooking?

JG-L: There are so many that I don’t think I can mention just one. For technique, there are many, and each day new tools appear that help us to do new things and not be static. The chef’s pantry is also the breadth of his voice and a tool for creativity. I can mention that escamoles (ant larvae, a delicacy) have always been present on our menus and can be a fetish ingredient, as well as the variety of huitlacoche (truffle-like corn mushroom) or chintextle (smoked chili paste). This season we are working a lot with the lyophilizer (a type of freeze-drying equipment) and with a Korean machine called OC’OO (a double-boiler/pressure cooker type of tool) as well as liquid nitrogen that we believe will continue to accompany us in our kitchen for many years for its versatility.

AL: Which musician or band would you like to cook for in a casual, private setting to chat, eat and maybe hear some of their music?

JG-L: I’ve played the drums since I was a teenager so I love music and am passionate about drums. I have many favorite bands but I’d like to cook for Queen or Metallica. I imagine cooking for Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain or Lars Ulrich. I don’t know. Many come to mind. Without a doubt, Metalica.

AL: One evening you get to take five chefs (present or past) to dinner at any restaurant in the world. Which chefs do you bring along with you and where do you take them (aside from your own restaurant)? Why those chefs and why that location?

JG-L: What a complicated question. Perhaps I’d start with Joël Robuchon, Paul Bocuse, Joan Roca, Rene Redzepi, Dominique Crenn. I would take them to El Bullí to fulfill the dream of dining there (now closed). And by the way, I will add Ferran Adria and Oriol Castro who are chefs that along with Joan and Rene, I admire. Joël and Bocuse, because I never had the opportunity to meet and talk to them. It would be brutal to spend four hours with their stories. And Dominique because the last time I had the opportunity to speak with her I loved her simplicity and way of talking. I became a fan immediately.

AL: How has your placement on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list changed your life?

JG-L: I think everything adds up. Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants is a prize and accolade for all of us who are part of Le Chique and for the company that trusted us from the beginning, Karisma Resorts. It’s a great, great responsibility and we appreciate the trust of those who have supported us in these 11 years. We believe that continuing to cook and work as we have done is the best way to do our day-to-day. If it changes our clientele and the pace of work is greater, it is something that helps the whole team to move forward and renews us daily. We will continue cooking and dreaming… We know our origin, but we are cooking our destiny.