I love my key words, slogans and tag lines, as you’ve probably noticed. “The-Out-of-Towner-Turned-Insider”. “Elevate Your Travel Game.” “We showcase cultural excellence”. “The genius of Mexican culture.” It’s this last one in particular that I vibe with on a deep level. Mexicans are known for being many great things, yet “genius” doesn’t seem to be an adjective thrown around often when it comes to describing our national talent. That is until now.
At its core, Morenita is a colorful socio-anthropological experiment where I recognize ourselves and our cultural value. I know it’s a company, but it was born out of my heart and soul, so in my mind it’s a movement, an awakening, a cultural homecoming. Over the last two years I’ve built this perfect little universe of food, art & culture for myself where I am always inspired and stimulated by our Mexico, and in this personal process of focusing on the positives I help our client also zero-in on la verdadera genialidad de nuestra cultura.
#MorenitaGenius is a new piece of content where we show off aquellos genios who are at the top of their game, even though they’re all still so young and many, just like me, with 15-20 years of experience, are just getting started. This first story will focus on the restaurant world: we all know Enrique Olvera, Elena Reygadas and Jorge Vallejo, but wait til you meet the new school of chefs, sommeliers, maitre d’s and purveyors who are bringing the game to a completely new level. These talented youths and their spectacular work alone are worth you booking your next Morenita Experience in Mexico City.
Cristina Lugo, Founder & CEO of Morenita Experience, has developed a reputation as a Mexico City culinary and cultural ambassador thanks to her extensive experience in the world of hotels and restaurants. In this story, co-written with Viridiana Ramirez, Morenita’s Communications Director, she shares who she considers to be the most distinguished food & drink personalities currently changing the CDMX industry.
Sofía Hernández - De Garo Jamat
Sofia was born and raised in Ensenada, a 90-minute drive south of San Diego. Her dad is from Oaxaca and her mom from Sinaloa, two major food areas in Mexico, making her childhood a food-centered cult of fish and shellfish. Sofia is the Sales Manager at her family-owned De Garo Jamat, a company that commercializes the highest-quality seafood products from Baja & the Mexican Gulf and sells to distinguished national restaurants like Pujol, Quintonil, Rokai, Rosetta and Maximo Bistrot. Basically, any oyster, crab, fish, shrimp, lobster or uni you’ve ever had at any of these award-winning restaurants was most likely hand-picked by Sofia. Not only that, but the family is also partners at Campobaja, our favorite seafood restaurant in Colonia Roma.
One of Sofia’s many responsibilities is communicating with the chefs and kitchen staff the properties of every fish and piece of seafood sold, so they understand how to best clean, cook and store it, and accurately pass this information on to the waiters, who are then able to correctly answer your questions when you’re ordering from the menu.
Asian food culture has always had a large influence on this family. When Sofia was a child, in addition to egg and black bean burritos (along with fish tacos, burritos are Baja staples), her school lunch didn’t consist of PB&J sandwiches, but of bento boxes and makis. Few people have I had more passionate & eloquent discourses about food with: Sofia is an old food expert soul living in the body of a young beautiful woman.
Lucho Martínez - Emilia
His quirky glasses, slim frame and wrist tattoo referencing his baby daughter’s name are the first thing that catches your eye, not to mention his youth and his taciturn character. Lucho has a cool-punk-rock-Harry-Potter-esque thing about him, and we’re here for it.
Don’t call him a chef, “soy cocinero”, Lucho - a nickname for Luis - tells us. Born in Veracruz but raised in the US, Lucho moved back to Mexico at age 14, when he was taught how to cook by his grandmother. At 17, he relocated to Cancun to work and since then, has left his stamp in the kitchens of renowned restaurants, such as Quintonil & Máximo.
Lucho is currently a partner at Emilia - another tribute to his daughter - one of the new culinary spaces of the Edo Kobayashi group, and in our opinion a most exciting fine dining destination with its chef’s table and ultra sleek aesthetics. The menu changes daily and is inspired by Japanese, French and Mexican ingredients and techniques. What I like most about this place is how much I have to step out of my comfort zone whenever I visit, my ego is wonderfully bruised as I have to ask (or even worse: google! ME! a seasoned foodie!) what most of the 10-course menu is as I’ve never even heard of half the items on it. I dine there to delight my senses but also to learn, and I so appreciate Lucho and his vision for it.
The dishware, glassware, open kitchen, marble tops, furniture: everything at Emilia is exquisite, fine, seductive. The team of young chefs, both men and women in their mid 20s, all have a distinctive yet super-cool kid look about them (when did everyone in the restaurant industry become this attractive and fashionable?! Sheesh!) and do what seems to be a dance around the kitchen as they make their way over to explain each course, always smiling, enjoying themselves. As a cook, team leader and restaurateur: Lucho has what it takes to go far, and he’ll get there quick.
Eréndira Díaz- Pujol
In 2006, Eren was hired as a line cook at the already-world famous Pujol, where she worked for seven years. If you last 7 days in Pujol, let alone 7 years, you are already at the top of the proverbial food chain. Wanting to mix it up a bit, Eren asked chef Enrique Olvera for an opportunity to join the select service team that waits the tables of the 12th best restaurant in the entire planet, and he said yes.
As a waitress, she learned the basics: how align glasses and tables with perfect accuracy; how to take the order of a table of 6 from memory without a pen and paper; how to use hand signals to communicate with her peers so as to never raise her voice in front of a diner; and, amongst many other neat practices, how to leave the dining room perfectly impeccable for the next day. But she also learned and excelled at the intangibles, what truly sets leaders apart: how to make friends with everyone; how to be in a good mood and smiling (always), regardless of how exhausted she was; how to make everyone laugh: from the dish wash to the security guard at the door to each and every diner, Eren’s presence is appreciated and welcome.
Eren didn’t last long as a waitress. Her global superstar boss understood he had a true gem in his hands, and in 2017 Eren’s tenacity and dedication led him to promote her to be the General Manager of what today is the best restaurant not only in Mexico, but in all of North America.
In my late 20s, I served as GM at several important restaurants in CDMX, and at each one I was always the first woman to do so. The fact that Pujol has its first female GM, and that its Erendira, is such a monumental win: for women and for the industry alike, not just in Mexico but in the entire world. It’s the dawn of a new era, and Eren is a shining bright star in it.
Norman Pérez - Le Tachinomi Desu
Le Tachinomi Desu is one of the most peculiar bars in Mexico City, as it is inspired by traditional Japanese tachinomis, an after-office casual bar where you have a quick bite and drink standing on your way home from work. One of the key components of our very own CDMX tachinomi - where only 20 people can be served at a time - is our friend Norman Pérez, beverage Director for Grupo Edo Kobayashi. Norman is quite possibly the most prominent beverage curator in Mexico, thanks to his extensive experience with Japanese whiskey, Mexican sake and natural, biodynamic and orange international wines, of which he is completely self-taught.
Norman is painfully charming and attentive. When I first met him I instantly wanted to be his friend. Le Tachi is the only bar in Mexico City that I’ve truly made my own, meaning, this is where I take everyone I want to show a good time, I’m always in the mood for a glass of funky natural wine, a lil’ jazz, hamachi crudo, coriander salad and of course the decadent AF omu rice (ok. get this. japanese rice, egg omelette, foie gras, truffle oil, fresh truffle and parmesan cheese. LAWD gimme strength! If that’s not true love in a tapa dish meant for sharing then I don’t know what is.)
In large part, making Le Tachi my own was thanks to Norman, and his brilliant talent and demeanor. He’s a most gracious, knowledgeable, professional and accessible host. Norman is the real deal, the quality service staff that secures permanent success for any establishment.
Miwi - Pizza Félix
At 20, Miwi never imagined that cooking would become her life’s passion. She was an interior design student who relocated to Barcelona to specialize in sideboard design. It was in Spain where she discovered a love for cooking (hard not to fall in love with the entire concept of food in a country like Spain) and with her parents’ support and blessing, changed her career. For four years, she worked in small restaurants in Barcelona under immigrant status, a situation that forced her to experience labor abuse, such as overtime without pay and, obviously, no vacations.
Upon returning to Mexico, Adriana Lerma (Miwi’s birth name) met with her friends and now business partners, Alejandro Romero and Gabriela Romero. The three opened Felix, a spot that a few months after opening became the hot-spot go-to La Roma dive bar in where everyone and their mother met for drinks and tapas. The next opening was Belmondo, a sandwich sanctuary - but not just any ole’ sandwich: “they have love and creativity”, says Miwi. Options to choose from include roasted vegetables, chicken curry with cranberry sauce, bacon, homemade corned beef, short ribs slowly braised with muenster cheese ... sandwich heaven on earth for the palate.
Miwi's most recent venture is Pizzas Félix, located behind Felix Bar in a charmingly cozy courtyard. To really offer the quality of a Neapolitan pizza (thin but with high edges and slightly burnt), Miwi did a six-month field study in Italy to learn everything she could about dough.
I moved to Mexico City 7 years ago. The very first bar I went to, the first place anyone would even mention when it came to socializing or nightlife, was Félix. When I first tried their mini sliders and the truffle fries, I straight up almost fainted. It was beyond delicious. It was around those first few months of moving here (I was renting a tiny studio in Condesa I could barely afford) that I somehow ended up flipping through the pages of a magazine (perhaps Time Out?) that featured a story on Miwi. She was sitting on top of a bar, wearing a cool-girl suit with flat vinyl shoes, her cool-girl blonde bob parted to the side, and I think the headline was “the new school of restaurateurs”, or something like that. I had an instant girlcrush on her, the concept of her, her career and her success: “when I grow up, I aspire to be this level of industry cool girl”, I thought to myself. This petite norteña owned & operated the best bar in Mexico City: no one could possibly understand how difficult it is to attain this. Unless of course you are a woman, trying to succeed in this mega cut-throat, dog-eat-dog, ultra competitive universe that is professional life in Mexico City, a space where 25 million people are racing against each other, where they make it a billion times harder on women (of course) and on foraneos, those of us who weren’t born here/into wealthy CDMX families. Miwi made me feel like I could one day stand out, I could one day be mentioned alongside the greats, I could one day make it.
This whole time, Miwi probably had no idea her story paved the way for mine and for, I’ve no doubt, many others after her. Gracias chef, y salud!
Filipe Neves- Aiko
Filipe will be the one exception in this list as he, believe it or not, is not Mexican, regardless of how well he curses in Spanish! He was born in Portugal, where his mother taught him how to cook for himself at a young age so he didn’t have to depend on a woman to properly feed him. She was raising a young boy to grow into a feminist adult man and we couldn’t be more grateful for his wise mother and other women like her.
Filipe studied computer science, but he is a rebel at heart and knew he wouldn’t be able to live glued to a desk. In his early twenties, his alternatives were join the army or become a chef. The answer was clear and Filipe traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, where he spent a year taking a cooking course. He carried on his culinary journey at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe for a few years, until one day he felt it was time to move on. And he did… to the other side of the planet.
In 2017, he moved to Mexico City to open Can Can gastropub, one of the coolest bars in La Roma with the most heart-warming Euro-style soul food. He also put in some time at Masala y Maíz, the Mexican-Indian-East African fusion spot in San Miguel Chapultepec. Today Filipe heads the new Edo Kobayashi Polanco pizzeria Aiko, where he’s developed a sourdough crust that’s revolutionizing the CDMX pizza ecosystem.
This Chef of 30, learned how to make pizza through books, YouTube videos, and a short visit to Brooklyn where a friend of his showed him the secrets behind caring for and working with sourdough.
His favorite pizza was always the Hawaiian, which he is currently working on to add to the AIKO menu as a way of playing with the idea of tradition in the world of pizza.
I first met Filipe at Bar Oriente, a Japanese restaurant belonging to the same group as Can Can. He spoke perfect English so I asked where he was from. “I’m Portuguese”, he replied. I had a couple of glasses of natural wine in me so I got very excited & began speaking Portuguese, explaining I lived in Rio de Janeiro for 2 years. Filipe was completely uninterested and continued speaking English (lol). Somehow despite our very sarcastic natures, we very quickly became great friends & mutual cheerleaders. I have no idea how long he’ll stay in Mexico but so long as he’s here, he is one of our most prominent talents.
Nancy Zavala - Máximo Bistrot
She’s easy to spot at 5’10”, clear-skinned baby face, nose ring, dreadlocks down to her waist, nose permanently locked into a glass of wine. Nancy grew up as a talented basketball player in the sleepy beach town of La Paz, Baja California, until, as frequently happens, an injury took her off the court for good. However, this was not an impediment to her professional development, as she moved on to study gastronomy and even won a scholarship at Fundación Turquois, a nationally-acclaimed training & development center for customer service in the world of hospitality, specifically restaurants.
Nancy’s extensive and impressive knowledge goes beyond wine and includes coffee, teas, beers and endless cocktails. “In the end, my heart belongs to sherry”, she says. Having worked at Pujol, today Nancy is the sommelier of Máximo Bistrot, one of the most outstanding gastronomic spaces in Mexico City, under the command of chef Eduardo García.
Studying will never cease in the life of Nancy Zavala, as she is currently becoming certified as a cicerone (beer sommelier) and is also in the process for certification in the Court of Sommeliers of the Americas. Soon after, Nancy plans on also dominating the world of mezcal.
Alex Zárate - Campobaja
Gastronomy has always been part of his life, growing up in a family devoted to it, mainly women. His dream was to be a historian, but when it was time to decide his profession he was swept away by the kitchen. Alex was born and raised in Ensenada, Baja California, and his inevitable gravitation towards seafood led him to join Chef Ezequiel Hernández in opening Campobaja in 2016.
Alejandro Zárate (Chef de Cuisine at Campobaja) and I had similar childhoods: he was a sort of "gringo" Mexican kid growing up in Mexico, but still being, well... sorta gringo. (Did any of that make sense? It does to us.) Kids like us celebrated Thanksgiving and were familiar with soul food and didn't discover the beautiful complexities of Mexican moles and cumbias until we were adults. We were both raised in tourist beach towns, Puerto Vallarta is my hometown, Ensenada is his.
For Zarate, being in the kitchen is a delight, enjoy creating new dishes and, above all, see the reactions of diners when trying one of their creations. The look on their face, the gestures they make after they taste is what inspires him to keep learning about the products of the sea. Alex was classically trained in French techniques, which is always noticeable in the finishing touches of his Campobaja menu: its a casual seafood spot with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, but somehow feels like a fine dining destination. Every detail is just that excellent.
Fernanda Torres - Emilia
Another norteña, Fer was born in Mexicali, Baja California and studied in the colonial city of Puebla in central Mexico. Kitchens have always tempted her heart, starting with a love affair she had with the smells coming from a bakery next door during her childhood. When she graduated, Fer, moved to Mexico City and one day applied for an opening at Rokai restaurant, where Edo Kobayashi gave her a job.
Fernanda worked as a waitress and with the customer service team until 2017 and today is the operations manager for all of Grupo Edo Kobayashi, which consists of no less than 16 of the country’s most successful & popular establishments. Fer quickly became Edo’s right hand and is responsible for coordinating all managers, as well as overseeing all reservations, and even the design and aesthetics of restaurants!
I first met Fernanda about 6 yeas ago when having dinner at Yakitori-Ha, Kobayashi’s Japanese skewer spot in Colonia Cuauhtémoc. I was with my then-boyfriend having dinner and when it came time to pay the bill we realized he had dropped his wallet on our way there and I left mine at home! We were unable to pay for our dinner & were very embarrassed, to say the least. Fernanda was the most gracious, and I never forgot her kind demeanor. Years later as I keep coming back to the Kobayashi restaurants I’m like this proud coach on the sideline, internally cheering Fernanda on as I see her climbing the ranks and expanding her authority within the fastest-growing culinary group in CDMX. This young woman seamlessly handles Japanese chefs, Mexican wait staff, international diners, investors, managers, and single-handedly oversees the personal agenda of the group’s Founder & CEO, all while being a new wife and mother.
If the future ain’t female then I don’t know anything about anything, seriously.
José Ramon Castillo - Que bó!
José is the most recognized chocolate maker in Mexico and founder of Qué Bó!, an upscale gourmet chocolaterie that we love so much, one of the farewell amenities our VIP guests receive is a box of his gorgeous chocolates. His centro historico chocolate shop is a space where you’ll find some of the most unique, beautiful and delicious chocolates and truffles, all made with Mexican ingredients.
His experience has earned him countless awards, such as being the first chocolate maker in Latin America to belong to the respected international chocolate guide, Club de Creuquers du Chocolat. He worked for eight years in Spain and was the first Mexican to win the Cocina Joven de Catalunya contest.
He is the author of the book Kakaw, where he makes a deep investigation of cocoa and rescues 40 traditional chocolate recipes. The dedication & rich knowledge behind his writings earned the publication to be recognized by UNESCO as a "World Heritage Book".
José Ramón is currently a judge on the TV show Masterchef Mexico.