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AQ Feature

AQ Top 5 Young Chefs: Elena Reygadas

Breaking culinary rules has led to widespread acclaim for the head chef and owner of Rosetta.
Credit: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty

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"Cooking doesn’t have to have a flag,” said Elena Reygadas. The menu at Rosetta, her Mexico City restaurant, with choices ranging from gnocchi to nopales, proves her point: It doesn’t just cross boundaries between countries, but between sweet and savory. Chicozapote, a fruit that’s often a Mexican ice cream flavor, makes its way into a salad appetizer. A mole, typically served with pork, appears in a dessert. Explained Reygadas, 39, “I love the idea of breaking the rules.”

In 2001, long before Rosetta started showing up on best restaurant lists, Reygadas found herself cooking for different palates when her brother, Ariel Award winning filmmaker Carlos Reygadas, needed a caterer on a set. She had to come up with two menus; the European crew didn’t want corn and the Mexican crew didn’t want pasta.

At the time, Reygadas was studying English literature at Mexico’s National Autonomous University. But that catering gig inspired a career. She finished her degree and packed for New York to attend the French Culinary Institute, then headed to London, where she worked with renowned Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli.

After her first daughter was born, she moved home. “When I came back, I realized how lucky we are in Mexico with all the ingredients we have — the fruits, the vegetables, the seafood,” said Reygadas, who sources 90 percent of Rosetta’s menu nationally. Launched in 2010 in a townhouse decorated with antiques from the city’s Lagunilla flea market, Rosetta blends the cuisines of Mexico and Europe.

The restaurant’s homemade bread is so good that neighbors also soon became regular customers. That persuaded Reygadas to open two bakeries and, last year, a restaurant called Lardo with a bar and an open kitchen. Her philosophy of good eating includes more than food. “Through good food,” she said, “you can generate a good conversation.”

And also acclaim. In 2014, Reygadas won the Veuve Clicquot Prize for Latin America’s Best Female Chef. The recognition comes as a new generation of Mexican chefs is opening their own restaurants, building on Mexico’s strong tradition of gastronomy with methods learned abroad. But when she’s taking a break, there’s a good chance her food of choice will tend toward the traditional. “I have a kind of fascination with tamales,” admitted Reygadas.

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Zissis is editor-in-chief of AS/COA Online. She is based in Mexico City.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Mexico, AQ Top 5, Food