Friday, November 18, 2016

Luis Pablo Dominquez: The Joy of Growing Up Chef


Luis Pablo Dominguez is a rising star, a talented whiz kid who knew how to work a crowd by the time he was ten. At age eleven, he was cooking for parties of three hundred in his father’s restaurant, El Jardin de los Milagros, in Guanajuato. He knew what a Michelin star was before he reached the age of twelve. Does he want one? He says he doesn’t cook for one.
Being a chef is in his DNA; his father Bricio Dominguez, one of the best-known chefs in SMA, helped put Guanajuato state on Mexico’s culinary map. Bricio owns five restaurants: El Jardin de los Milagros, La Canica, neXtia, 13 Cielos and Pimienta Negra.
"Working with my children is the best thing that has ever happened to me” Bricio said. “They’ve learned so much more than they would have at any cooking school.”  Los jóvenes el futuro de México #1,” he proclaims. Translation: Young people are the future of Mexico. He should know. He has two sons and a nephew who are also chefs.

Last December, Bricio and Chef Paco Roncero, a two star Michelin chef, opened La Canica, an upscale street food restaurant at Pila Seca #2. The house La Canica is in, was built in the late 1890’s, and is one of the oldest homes in SMA. In an interesting twist, this year, upon returning from his senior year of high school in Ashland, Oregon, Guanajuato’s sister city, it’s now home to Bricio’s youngest son and SMA’s youngest chef, Luis Pablo Dominguez.

                                                                    Photo Source: Unknown
Luis Pablo grew up in his parent’s restaurant, captivated by all of the things that go on in a professional kitchen. “Seeing people work hard and putting love in every recipe they cook really inspired me. I started to recognize what I wanted in my own life,” he said.

For most of his life, Luis Pablo has been on the fast track, cooking and traveling with his father to many major, international culinary events. Right now, he’s traveling with his father to participate in FIBEG 2016, a culinary fair in Merida, Spain. Despite the high-profile life, Luis Pablo is a regular kid who happens to have an extreme passion for cooking. He’s a confessed, self-taught chef who devours cookbooks and has spent his entire life learning from the famous chefs who have surrounded him.

True to his roots, when I asked him what type of restaurant he would like to open, he said it will always be Mexican. He has an infatuation for all types of ingredients and loves living in SMA; there’s something magical about all of the organic produce here. He doesn’t mind the long hours at the restaurant. “Time flies when you’re doing what you love,” he says.

The most bizarre thing he’s eaten was a cockroach, but claims it wasn’t all that bad. The worst thing he’s eaten: a sea urchin, definitely an acquired taste.

I was surprised when he told me that he doesn’t use the internet much to research recipes. His favorite book, Le Cordon Bleu's Complete Cooking Techniques, is the one he's relied on and learned from the most. His presentations are surprisingly sophisticated, considering the fact that he's just eighteen.

If he could pick any restaurant in the world to eat at, he singles out El Celler de Can Roca, because, he says, “it’s the best restaurant in the world.”

El Celler de Can Roca is a highly respected and influential restaurant in the suburb of Taiala, in the small provincial city of Girona in Catalunya, an hour north-east of Barcelona. Open in 1986, it holds three Michelin stars. It’s owned by three brothers and much like the Dominguez family, the chemistry between the brothers is legendary.

In the Dominguez family, brother Alonso is the terrific chef at neXtia, a contemporary Mexican restaurant in the stylish Nena Hotel. Cousin Pablo presides over the kitchens at 13 Cielos. Bricio also owns Pimienta Negra, which opened in Irapuato earlier this year. Of his brother and cousin, Luis Pablo eagerly says “we are family so when they need help, I help them and they help me, too. We are a great team.”

Consequently, Luis Pablo has cooked in all of Bricio’s restaurants, well-known for doing major weddings and parties. Mayra Elisa Cervantes organizes all of the events at La Canica.

The first time I experienced Luis Pablo’s cooking, I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much. To my surprise, his style has developed through eleven years of experience (can you imagine having eleven years of experience at anything by the time you’re eighteen) as well as his grasp of flavors and ingredients. He embraces tradition yet adds a measure of creativity to the mix. It’s a fusion of Spain, the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Bricio calls it “a modern, more daring cuisine, designed and prepared by young chefs." Luis Pablo develops all of his own recipes.

Last week, I asked him who his pastry chef was because the dessert I had just devoured was wonderful. “I am” he replied. “I don’t eat them but people say I make really good ones.” Really good is an understatement; caramelized bananas with brandy sauce, local fruit, cajeta meringue and Tequila Ice Cream. 

The other 3 courses ...

Tuna Taco: Poblano tortilla, fresh Tuna with five chilies adobo, avocado reduction, sesame, fried leeks and pickled onion.

This taco had exceptional textures and delicious flavors. I especially loved the earthy, homemade, poblano tortilla. Fried leeks on a taco are always a favorite.

Salmon with artichoke and garlic sauce, local vegetables, seasonal flowers and guajillo oil.

The combination of the beets and artichokes was exquisite with a gorgeous presentation. No easy feat, the salmon was cooked perfectly.

Lechon (baby pig) cooked 12 hours and sealed in garlic oil with a yam and pumpkin gel and red fruits Mole.

This was one of the best dishes I've eaten in SMA. A first for me: the red fruit mole, complimented by the yam and pumpkin gel. This is another one of Luis Pablo’s original recipes. This dish could also be made with turkey for a delicious Thanksgiving meal.

Luis Pablo is in to creating infused Mezcals; this one a Guava Mezcal with basil, mint , thyme and rosemary that’s been aged for 3 months.

La Canica also has its own brand of tequila as well.

When some of the best chefs in SMA need a jolt of inspiration, they head to the street. One of Luis Pablo’s favorite places to eat is Andy’s Tacos, a street cart on Hidalgo and Insurgentes, famous for their Tacos Al Pastor. Luis Pablo may prepare all star meals but he’s a street food junkie at heart; his last meal will be Enchiladas Verdes, he says.

He also recalled one of the best meals he’s ever eaten when he was 16 at Santceloni Restaurant in Madrid. His drool-worthy description of the impeccably cooked pork calf made me want to book the next flight to Madrid just to try it. When he’s with his family though, it’s pretty traditional; carne asada is usually the number one choice.

Does he have a girlfriend? No time for that; the bachelor title remains. How about a hobby? He and his family are fishermen; pictured here with a bass at age 15. His mother Ruth took the picture.

When I asked if his mother can cook, he laughed and said “My mom has a surprising skill in the kitchen, she can burn water, so no, she doesn’t cook; she is the manager of the restaurants, she’s spectacular at that.”

                                                                               Photo Source: Unknown
Luis Pablo also has a sister, Natalia Dominguez, who was Queen of Guanajuato in 2014.

When interviewing chefs, most of them will talk about their favorite restaurants but not Luis Pablo, whose diplomacy skills are amazingly advanced. When I asked him what his favorite restaurant was, he said

“I can’t tell you the name; I don’t want to have problems with the other chefs.”
In one sense, you look at Luis Pablo and say he’s just eighteen, he’s a kid. In reality, his discipline, character, respect, professionalism, dedication and humility are all part of the person he already is, a chef…a really good chef.
Buen Apetito!
Book a table for the 7-course tasting menu. Call 415 121 9022 for reservations.
You can also ask the chef to prepare a smaller tasting menu.

La Canica
Pila Seca #2, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, GTO
Hours: Wednesday – Monday 1:30 PM – 10:00 PM except Sunday closing 6:00 PM.

The Secret Tunnel…

During the seven month renovation to restore La Canaca to its original grandeur, workers uncovered a secret tunnel that runs from the restaurant to the Parroquia. There are stories floating around about what happened in those tunnels way back when. You can only imagine as they are undocumented, like most of SMA’s history.

I wanted to get in the tunnel but the minute he opened the door, you could see it wasn’t safe for entry. Ask to look at the tunnel when you are there. It’s a slice of SMA’s history.