Graciela Montaño


"My inspiration: the result of everything that affects me emotionally. "

What made you want to become a chef?
Watching my Grandma expressing feelings and making people happy through food. It is something that has always been with me, something that gives meaning to my life and makes every day special. 
What is your first memory of a dish that made you dream?
In my Grandma's kitchen, when I climbed up onto a stool and added the chocolate to the 'mole'. The bits of chocolate melded with the other ingredients and the kitchen was filled with aromas - it was magical... That smell remains in my memory to this day.

Who has influenced you in your cooking style or philosophy?
To-date I've had several: my family (I'm from a family that loves to cook, and to share and celebrate things around a table); From Mexico, the historian Edmundo Escamilla and Head Chef Yuri de Gortari gave my cooking an unbeatable hallmark. However, the greatest influence on me right now would be the traditional Mexican chefs - the guardians of our history.
What inspires you? or Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration: the result of everything that affects me emotionally. The beauty of Mexico, its history, traditions, legends, people, markets, ingredients, smells, colours and flavours. Not long ago, I saw the working method of a Huichol craftsman. His artistry had such an impact on me, that I went back and cooked shrimps with two sauces: one Cascabel chilli, the other mango. I had to pour that feeling out into a dish. Or when I heard the legend of the Tlanchana (Siren), I pondered on what kind of menu would reflect her story.

What is your favourite culinary method or technique?
Steamed, roast, stewed.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Chocolate, amaranth, green courgettes... It's a difficult question - every ingredient has its fascination. 
What is your favourite cooking utensil?
A good pot and frying pan. My Aura Knife to test the readiness of my dishes.
What material do you prefer for your pans and saucepans?
Stainless steel - from Bergner, naturally.
What would you like to change about the cooking schools?
Focus on nutritional context and a greater emphasis on local ingredients, how they are obtained and grown. Greater awareness of historical context.
Your advice for young chefs.
Seek their uniqueness through knowledge of their country. Find an approach that makes them different. Find ways to cook healthier dishes with better nutritional balance, making best use of the properties of their ingredients. Don't give up easily. Give their best every day.
What do you look for when you hire someone for your restaurant?
Passion, responsibility, respect and integrity. The technical and specific knowledge for the job can be learnt, but without passion, there is no emotion and this can be seen in the dishes.
How do you motivate your team?
Good communication and fair treatment on a daily basis. I find reasons and moments in which to acknowledge their effort. This ranges from: 'the soup today has never been better' to more extensive feedback.
What would you like to change in the catering industry?
Greater creativity and use of seasonal ingredients.
Proposed pairings that complement the customer's experience.
Improvement in service for the diner. A great dish cannot make up for a miserable-faced waiter. You need to look after all the details to ensure it's an unforgettable experience.
Honesty and integrity should always be cornerstones of the catering industry.
What do you do when you have difficult guests?
Show sympathy, patience and tolerance. It's what they are feeling, not what I am feeling. Where it happens, I try to understand what the problem is. Everyone can have a bad day and, realistically, we don't know what is going on in their lives.

Where do you like to get away to relax?
Ironically, cooking and all its related activities are relaxing for me - they help me concentrate and keep me entertained. Talking about favourite times: these can range from dusk on a beach, through chatting round the table after a god meal, enjoying a glass of red wine (Mexican, of course) with a chocolate truffle and a reddening dusk among the mountains of Guadelupe Valley in Baja California, to a morning spent shopping in a Mexican market. In any case, the one constant is my family. Being with them is my ultimate pretext for laughter and being happy.
What pushes you to keep on going?
An inner energy, living in the present, trying to be better than yesterday, giving the best of me at all times and, of course, the most important: cooking from the heart.
Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
Each of my dishes is like a child - they all hold something special. If I had to choose, I would go for my 'White Mole', with its base of Güero chillies, peanuts, almonds, pine nuts and sesame.
What is your favourite restaurant?
Depends on the occasion. I am as happy with a blue 'tlacoyo' with cream cheese in the market or from a beach bar as a starred restaurant. 
Which current chef do you most admire and why?
In Mexico, Head Chef Yuri de Gortari for his focus on and rigour with traditional Mexican cuisine. In the United States, Chef Thomas Keller: in the 90s, a single meal in his restaurant altered my perception of perfection. 

How do you think restaurants should be classified? 
With less politicking and more honesty. Classifications are subjective; for me, there is no greater objectivity than the experiences of the diners. A satisfied customer and one who comes back are the best 'stars'.