Val Cantu changes the conversation about Mexican cuisine, interview
As MasterChef Legends nears the finale, Val Cantu joins a group of top chefs for a legendary dinner. For all those who have dined at his impressive restaurant in San Francisco Californios, Chef Cantu’s culinary approach deserves to be in the spotlight. The famous chef gives new meaning to the humble tortilla.
Throughout MasterChef Legends, each of the chefs who joined the culinary conversation presented a unique perspective. From Sherry Yard and his approach to ending the meal on a sweet note to Jonathan Waxman and his sage advice on learning from his mistakes, every culinary master gives home cooks one more tool in their box. proverbial tools.
While some of MasterChef’s legends have appeared in various culinary programs, Val Cantu may not be so immediately recognizable. With a litany of culinary accolades, Cantu should be on the radar of more food TV fans. From receiving a Michelin star to recent accolades from the San Francisco Chronicle, Cantu is a force in the culinary world.
In his restaurant, Californios, Cantu seeks to elevate Mexican cuisine. To say that this approach to Mexican cuisine is different from others is an overly simplistic turn of phrase.
Asked about his approach to Mexican food and his dishes at Californios, Cantu said, “The point of what we want to do with the restaurant is just to try and broaden people’s perspectives on Mexican cuisine. While this statement is expansive, it is an open invitation to the table and the start of a “little conversation.”
As Cantu explained later, “our food is not to shock people or surprise people”. At the heart of every plate is food that “makes people happy” while “allowing them to experience something they might not have known”.
A good example on the Californios menu is the tortilla. The corn used in these tortillas is grown by a small farm. As Cantu explained, this heirloom corn is treated with the utmost respect. The resulting vibrant color and flavor is more than special.
In his words, only the aroma of corn is so alluring. The concentrated corn flavor that comes out of the cooking process is what “brings people back to the table” time and time again. A bite of an artisan tortilla and people will enjoy what nuanced Mexican food can be.
This attention to detail is just one part of the thoughtfulness that comes with every meal Cantu creates. Through his tasting menu, Cantu believes that the meal is a way of “telling a story”. It is a tale that “presents guests with delicious flavors and textures”.
Beyond the dining experience, Cantu hopes that “the shared history reveals some of our passion and care in the food we prepare. There is love in every dish.
In many ways, this love is part of the chef’s story. When asked about the idea of how a chef eats food, Cantu spoke poignantly. He said, “Giving food to someone is a very basic human emotion. While he aims to make every guest happy at every meal, he feels like he is sharing his emotions with the guests and, in the end, the experience leaves a lasting impression.
However, this meal on the plate did not appear as if by magic with a wave of the wand. At the heart of every dish is flavor. Cantu said, “We always go for the flavor first, then we think about the presentation.” The goal is to make a dish that looks like “something someone would like to eat”.
In many ways, this idea is something MasterChef Legends home cooks need to consider. While there are many components and additions that can seem beneficial, the simplicity of a dish can often be more powerful. Instead of more than 15 items, Cantu recommends pairing them with fewer.
This ability to edit is the sign of a confident leader. As Cantu said, “trust yourself”. If you’ve made a great sauce, it doesn’t need a lot of other toppings and textures. Be confident with the cooking and the food on the plate. For home cooks participating in MasterChef Legends, this lesson could be Chef Cantu’s most beneficial lesson.
Val Cantu joins MasterChef Legends, episode “Legends Dinner”. This episode airs September 1 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
Californios is located in San Fransisco and Val Cantu has been awarded a Michelin star. In addition, he was named Best New Food and Wine Chef.