Always looking for ways to reinvent themselves and remain fresh, dependable restaurant group Mexico will launch a brand new menu on Monday 15 August. While new seasonal menus aren't unusual for the eatery, the latest offering is the first collaboration between longstanding chef Javier Carmona and new Executive Chef Peter Jackson. Fresh to the city we caught up with Peter to find out more about the man at the helm of the kitchen, what to expect from the new menu and their literal reinvention of the tortilla with the unlikely introduction of crickets...
Hi Peter. How are you? Tell us about yourself…
I am really good thanks. My partner Annelise, myself and baby Harper have just made the move from Wellington to Auckland for my new role as Executive Chef for The Mexico Group. I have been in the hospo game for over 20 years, I started out as a kitchen hand in a Queenstown restaurant at the age of 15 years old and worked my way through the kitchen all the way to Head Chef. I have trained in various types of cuisines, mainly Italian and Mexican and of course backyard Kiwi barbecue! I have always had a passion for food, cooking and eating it. I was kitchen Operations Manager for Mexico working alongside Javier Carmona. Though, my new role at Mexico is a welcome challenge, I feel like I have been given a great opportunity to really make a difference with our brand and personally grow as a chef as we all strive to do for our own personal satisfaction, but more importantly keep giving our devoted Mexican amigos and amigas great food and a vast variety of menu offerings every three months to stay contemporary and different.
What is your experience with Mexican cuisine?
I have experience in Mexican cuisine and over the past two years I have worked closely alongside Javier Carmona. Now with my new role as the Mexico Executive Chef I will be creating the menus, tasting and trialling more food in our prep kitchen so we can stay current and fresh. This truly is the most exciting part of my new role, creating food for our new menus. I really have immersed myself in the Mexico brand and the new menu launching early next week is a calibration of Javier and myself. I plan to take a trip to Mexico early next year so I can really immerse myself in their culture, eat Mexican street food and gather content for my upcoming menus, I feel this is great way to really understand the Mexican way of life, not to mention a trip to Mexico, tacos and tequila…sounds pretty good to me!
Sounds pretty good to us too! Can you walk us through the new menu at Mexico?
The new menu launching Monday 15th has a lot of new traditional Mexican content with some new exciting additions and the flair of our flavour combinations. There are new additions like the panuchos which is a classic Mexican dish, and making a return by popular demand is the patatas bravas. Tacos are looking exciting and a little bit adventurous with a whole jalapeño chilli stuffed with a soft shell crab and both deep fried in fennel, turmeric yeast batter. And four new additions; prawn coctele, a tamale filled with capsicum, chilli and cheese wrapped in corn maize steamed and topped with whole green olives, cucumber milk, and braised guajillo pork. Plus new salads and desserts, so we're really excited about the new menu and where Mexico is heading.
Why the move to cricket flour tortillas?
Javier was approached by Peter from Anteater Edible Insects who runs a business in Christchurch where he stocks edible insects like ants, cricket powder, locus and huhu grubs and various other insects. His mission is to accelerate the advent of sustainable agriculture. In Mexico they have more than 300 varieties of edible insects so Javier wanted to showcase some of the Mexican indigenous insects. So both Javier and I discussed how we would incorporate the cricket flour tortillas into our new menu. A few ideas were thrown around and then we finally decided to give our famous esquites dish a boost and add fried cricket tortillas, they offer a whole new exciting dynamic to the dish because of their crunchy chewy distinctive flavour and go well with the smoky buttery corn and blackened onion crema. It is a great story from Peter and his team at Anteater and we hope to educate the Kiwis with this new style of street food and put more of his product into our future menus.
Are there any other elements you hope to introduce to the menu?
We always change our menu every three months, this is great on so many levels; we get to work with current and fresh seasonal produce. Just quietly, I do have some new menu concept ideas that I want to bring to the Mexico brand. I will be looking at new ways to plate food, and possibly look at a new menu layout that compliments what we already do so well. We always strive to keep evolving our menu and the flavours we incorporate are always unique to us.
Mexico's infamous fried chicken
A question for the people. Do you intend to keep crowd favourites like the fried chicken?
Absolutely! Fried chicken will never go, we will always have fried chicken and churros on our menu. The fried chicken will stay the same but we will change some of the components on the churros from menu to menu to stay current and fresh.
Do you have any advice for cooking Mexican cuisine at home?
Fresh is best and charcoal barbecue is better than gas. The key to cooking Mexican at home is to buy all fresh produce, marinate your beef, pork or chicken in flavourful adobos ahead of time, use spices and fresh/dried chilies like achiote paste, ancho chilies, guajillo chillies and habaneros, red and green cayenne. Always use fresh herbs where possible, coriander is a staple requirement for Mexican cooking along with plenty of fresh limes, corn and avocado. We have just moved into a house in Browns Bay and this summer I will be getting my mate Rod Ballenden to cut an 80 litre gallon drum in half, attach the discarded half on hinges for a lid add a large grate to act as a grill so I can make a charcoal barbecue for my back deck which gets sun all day. Bring on summer!
Where are your favourite places to eat in Auckland?
When it comes to food I actually like everything and I will always try new things. I really love Asian cuisine, Thai, Chinese and Japanese sashimi, teppanyaki. I haven't been for a while but I sometimes go to this Korean BBQ in Howick called Mr Choi, he has this special sauce that he makes which is bloody amazing on everything. He still won't give me the recipe after numerous attempts from me trying to trick him into giving it up. We have just recently moved to Auckland so I will need to have a good look around to see what new places have popped up, however, just recently, I have been to Woodpecker Hill, Baduzzi, Miss Clawdy and That's Amore, a great pizza joint at the top of Little High Street.
The new menu from Javier Carmona and Peter Jackson will roll out at all seven Mexico locations from Monday 15 August.