Sunday, December 13, 2015

Chef Gaby Green: Nothing Tastes Better Than Experience

Playing with the big boys isn’t easy but Gaby Green doesn’t think about it. She’s got a kitchen to run.

Chef Gaby Green is on top of her game at Aguamiel, her fifth restaurant and some say her best venture yet.
Gaby previously had three Fondas (traditional home food cafes) and then the very popular food truck with partner Jennifer Posner. That’s when I first met them. In between, Gaby has taught cooking classes.
People love her food because she uses the best quality local ingredients to prepare recipes she’s learned from her grandmother and mother, but does them with her own contemporary twist.
The name Augamiel is poetic, mixing honey and water, and is actually the first extraction from the agave before you make mezcal.
So what lands Gaby in the same group with SMA’s top chefs? She’s always looking to learn something new and creates dishes that you don’t find anywhere other than at Aguamiel. When I go there, I know I’m going to get something different.

Photo: Jennifer Posner
I started this post two months ago. It got slightly off track for a month. You see, Gaby and Jennifer left the restaurant in the capable hands of Gaby’s mom, Marcela and Jorge Flores (former general manager at The Restaurant) who managed the front-of-the-house, while they spent the month of November in Myanmar and Thailand taking cooking classes, chef-to- chef, and fine tuning the Asian recipes Gaby already had in her library.

Personally, I think that Gaby’s Asian creations are some of her best. Gaby has that innate feel for what flavors pair well together. She understands how to blend and balance flavors which is especially noticeable in Asian food.

When I visited Aguamiel for appetizers, Gaby prepared bites of:

Grilled Pepper with rice, raisins, nuts, olives and topped with pesto sauce.

Thai Pumpkin and Coconut Soup.

Dumplings stuffed with Wild Mushrooms, topped with Pine nuts and goat cheese mousse.

Grilled Pepper stuffed with Shrimp & Sautéed Vegetables, topped with Chipotle cream sauce.

All of the tastes were different and each had surprising flavors.

She also prepared a Mexican Mole Soup with Wild Mushrooms and Pork - seasoned with Chile Guajillo and Ancho. This dish was a work of art and ties with Mixiotes as my favorite dish in SMA. The soup was perfectly spiced and I was simply blown away by the flavors. It’s her Grandmother’s recipe. The pork she uses is a cut from the spine which is full of flavor on the bone. The mushrooms are all sourced locally and they use oyster mushrooms called setas and chantrells.

Gaby shops at different places like local farms such as Rancho Trinidad, also Casa Collectiva and the Saturday Farmer’s Market. She buys cheeses from Cristina Gerez at El Capricho and Remo and uses Rancho Viejo chickens. Other meats come from various local butchers and purveyors and are bought fresh every week. She knows that good ingredients are the key to Aguamiel’s success, like this spicy shrimp soup called Tom Yam Goong, that I recently had one Sunday morning.
Gaby was born and raised in Mexico City by Mexican and European grandparents. Both of her grandmothers were great cooks, from different cultures but with an excellent sense of food. In fact, everyone in her family cooks and they love to gather for large comidas to enjoy many different types of cuisines.  

She’s speaks fondly of her grandmother “I lived my first five years in my grandparents home. When I arrived from school, I would run to the kitchen just to be with my grandmother, with whom I loved to spend hours.  She had a stool for me in the kitchen and gave me a set of utensils. While we cooked, she would also play the piano and sing, waiting for meal to be ready. She taught me about ingredients and how to cook with love for others. She inspired me with her passion for food and life.”
Gaby had a successful career in film before she started cooking. Twenty years ago, she moved to San Miguel. Still in film, she brought the first art film festival to San Miguel. Cooking was always her other passion and she ultimately decided to change her path for something more personal that she could share with people.

Gaby’s Famous Flan is probably the most sought after dish on the Aguamiel menu. I know. I’m a huge fan and I really never liked flan.

Her most challenging project was when Gaby was hired to cater an event for 250 people and she was serving lamb. The client said they would provide the meat from their rancho but Gaby didn’t expect that she would receive the animal whole. She really had to sharpen up on her butchering skills that day.

Auguste Escoffier and Paul Bocuse, two European men who revolutionized the concept of food in different times have influenced her Modern Mexican cooking style along with Carmen “Titita” Ramirez, a Mayora (for those who don’t know, this name is given in Mexico to woman who achieve the perfection in cooking after years of experience in a private home, in the kitchen of hotels or the kitchens of politicians). She opened a restaurant in 1972, and is probably is the oldest promoter of Mexican cooking in the last 40 years.

Gaby also takes heart from Chef Rene Redzepi’s kitchen philosophies and finds Mateo Salas’ (Aperi, San Miguel de Allende) creativity and innovations very exciting.
Of course, her first hero was her grandmother, Francisca “Pachis”.

I find Gaby’s own kitchen philosophy inspiring; “I cook as if it is only for me.”
Jennifer was born and raised in Louisiana and has been coming to San Miguel for 35 years, full-time here for 8 years. She previously worked in corporate marketing and product management and mastered skills that are useful to the marketing of Aguamiel.
Jennifer says “The use of social media is a great way to keep us in front of our audience.  With so many good food options in San Miguel, it is important to help people remember you are out there. Jennifer built the Aguamiel website and posts weekly on their Facebook page.
A photographer, she also likes taking photos of the dishes and uses the photos to convince people to come in. We both recognize that the wow factor always comes down to food photographs.
Jennifer’s mother taught her to be a good host, so she greets everyone and wants to make them feel at home. She loves telling the guests about our menus and is happy to suggest a nice wine to compliment their meal.
Earlier this year, she attended a WSET certification program at the Napa Wine Academy and learned about wines from around the world. She tasted over 130 wines in just over a week. 
At Aguamiel, they have selected mostly old world wines from Spain, France and Italy and also serve wines from Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico. They just introduced a new wine list so you can sample most of their wines by the glass. They want to stay unique so they work closely with their wine distributors to find wines not offered in other restaurants in San Miguel. I enjoyed this rose the last time I was there.
Aguamiel’s client mix is 75% locals and 25% visitors. They have customers who come in multiple times a week.  They have been hovering in the Top 15 Restaurants on Trip Advisor for the past several months. Gaby has a very loyal following.

On Tuesday, their day off, they make no commitments. You might find them at the hot springs or having a dinner out. It’s their day to relax and get ready for the demands of another week.
Brunch and Happy Hour…

One of my favorite dishes from their brunch menu is the Chilaquiles Tower. What makes it notable, instead of a same soggy version of chilaquiles that we’re all use to, is that they use their handmade tortillas that are fried up fresh on Sundays so the dish is really crispy. Aguamiel makes their own salsa picante and build each layer with black beans and chorizo. They will create a vegan or vegetarian version of the dish if someone asks for it. It looks like it will become a stable because so many people have asked them to keep it on the menu.
For Happy Hour every month, they offer a different special from 3-5pm.  Sometimes it’s a drink and botanas and other months it is an early-bird dinner special. No matter the offering, it’s always a great buy. The day we were there, it was 2X1 Mango Margaritas and 3 different empanadas; one stuffed with corn, one with meat and one with cheese.
Aguamiel’s bartender Bernie made me the best tamarind margarita. It tasted like a margarita and that’s what I liked about it because most tamarind margaritas in SMA do not. According to Aguamiel, their secret starts with good tequila. It makes a big difference in the flavor (and the hangover). They use fresh ingredients in all of their margaritas.
We recently spent a late Happy Hour at Aguamiel for the 3rd Anniversary of Cerveceria Dos Aves and the release of Diablos, a Belgian Golden Strong Ale paired with some of Gaby's best Asian Botanas. It was all delicious and priced at $150 pesos.
Behind Gaby in the kitchen is David Ortega, who has been there since they opened and has a lot of restaurant experience and Juanita Chavez, who has been cooking with Gaby for the past 10 years. Gaby recently promoted dishwasher Luz Padron and is now training her to be the newest cook in the kitchen. I, for one, am really fond of restaurants that promote from within. It generates a major, key ingredient: loyalty.

When they’re not at Aguamiel, you can find them on the stools at Ciro’s Gorditas after a swim at Taboada. They like to support local restaurants, so you’ll probably see them out and about around town.

Gaby also likes to cook at home and always finds the time to make a great breakfast. She has the gift of preparing an amazing meal with whatever she happens to find in the refrigerator.  
Aguamiel’s 1st Anniversary is February 14th. Stop in Gaby’s kitchen to say hello.

If her smile doesn’t get you, her food will.

Buen Apetito!

Aguamiel cocina rustica, Pipila 3A, Colonia San Antonio, San Miguel de Allende
Friday, Saturday, Monday 1 PM - 9 PM Sunday Brunch 10:30 AM - 2:30 PM
Phone: 415 150 7387