Kitchen Inquisition: Oscar del Rivero

The chef at Talavera and Jaguar talks guac, tostadas and what grandma taught him about cucumbers


Mexican Independence Day was September 15th, and Jaguar and Talavera restaurants pulled out all the stops. Good thing for us, the two restos have the same chef, so we bribed Oscar del Rivero with a bottle of tequila (okay, not really) to give us the scoop on his favorite dish, the secret to great guac (hint: there really isn't one) and who he'd invite to the ultimate dinner party (think old school).

We're sure they're all like your children, but what dish on the menu is your favorite?
I change my favorite every now and then. Right now I have to say the grilled salmon with acelgas and rajas. The salmon is rubbed with "talla" (guajillo chile and garlic) then grilled. Served over sauteed swiss chard, poblano peppers, corn a touch of cream and crispy potato cubes. I hope the other dishes on the menu don't read this interview.

The most popular dish on the menu?
Chicken Huarache. A hand made fresh corn masa shaped like a sandal (huarache) with black bean puree, lettuce, salsa verde, goat cheese topped with grilled chicken breast.

Best chef/cooking advice you've ever been given, and by who?
"When slicing cucumbers, first cut the tips off and rub the exposed cucumber tip against the exposed part of the cucumber. This way the cucumber will not taste bitter" -- Grandma. (I don't have any actual proof this works by the way, but I find it really amusing.)

Five ingredients every kitchen should have?
Salt, oil, onions, habanero peppers and tequila.

Secret to the perfect guacamole?
No secret -- keep it simple, perfect avocados and a well-balanced mix of onion, serrano peppers, cilantro and lime juice.

Favorite food memory?

Growing up at my mom's house, a classic tostada de pollo. The interesting part is that you could build your own tostada with plenty of ingredients to choose from. The table was loaded with refried beans, shredded lettuce, avocados, cream, cheese, shredded chicken, green salsa, red salsa, jalapenos, "salsa buffalo," etc -- and crunchy tostadas. It was fun to put it together; it was also fun to eat with our hands and since tostadas are tricky to eat (because they break and fall all over the place), we used to laugh a lot when glancing at my brother -- he would have a lot of the ingredients all around his face, all over his hands and sometimes even in his hair. Good times.

Favorite dish to cook at home?
Pizza, I enjoy pizza as much as the next guy. But the fun part is making pizzas with Alex and Diego (my sons). Alex likes very little cheese and nothing else while Diego likes it loaded with pepperoni. I enjoy the personalized pizza, and also that they get engaged in the process. They both like to look at the dough, but will not touch it. The final magical part is when it goes in the oven and it gets transformed into something we like to eat, looking through the oven window while the aroma is developing is as fun as watching TV. I hope this lasts.

If you could only eat one dish/food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Tacos al pastor.

Weirdest ritual/habit you have in the kitchen?
On the grill station, grabbing a house-made potato chip and dipping it in "salsa muerte"
and eating it. In the pantry station, a chicharron (pork rind), dipping it in Caesar dressing, dipping that in chopped serranos and hitting that with a splash of lime juice.

The five people you'd like to have at your dinner party?
Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juarez, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, Guadalupe Victoria and Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. These people are Mexican makers of history regarding the Mexican Independence. It would be fascinating to have them over at Talavera, eating huaraches and drinking wine. Talking about stories on how 200 years ago on September 15 they managed to gain independence from Spain.


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