The recent opening of the celebrity chef’s brand new restaurant brings the authentic taste of Puebla, Mexico to Greenwich Village.
If you’re tired of hunting for authentic Mexican food in New York, look no further!
Chef Julian Medina opened his 10th restaurant on March 10. He renamed the Thompson Street location of his Toloache restaurant chain in a bid to get back to his roots. It is now called Kuxe.
Medina grew up in Ciudad Satélite, an upper-middle-class neighborhood in northern Mexico City. It was here that he first fell in love with food – a love he now wants to share here, close to campus.
The staff have a say in Kuxe’s menu, and most of them immigrated from the Mexican state of Puebla. You can read a little blurb about what each dish means to the chefs on the restaurant’s printed menus.
I had the opportunity to speak with Medina about her new restaurant and even managed to get her to reveal a few secrets.
Antonio: What sets Kuxé apart from your other restaurants?
Medina: At Kuxé, we wanted to showcase comida del Pueblo, which basically means home cooking. These are the chefs who prepare dishes that they learned from their mothers and grandmothers, just as I did from my father and grandfather.
Antonio: So you would say it’s more of a family and traditional atmosphere?
Medina: It’s true, very authentic, very traditional. For example, we have dishes like tacos de barbacoa, which are steamed lamb rubbed with chili peppers, which is very traditional in Mexico. We have blue and white corn tortillas, homemade with the corn we bring from Oaxaca. So you know, [it’s] something so unique that we do that you might find in a small family restaurant or bodega in Mexico that we have now brought to town.
Antonio: On the opening day of Kuxé, you posted on Instagram with the caption: “So proud of my team, Kuxé is for them and thanks to them!” Could you explain this further?
Medina: Sometimes the staff is not as recognized as the chef or the owner. But in this case they came with the menu. They came with the dishes. When we were making the menu all together, I said, “Remember, this is your dish – and it has nothing to do with me.” I told them they had to create their own veneer and even choose their own topping, if they wanted to.
Antonio: Kuxé is the Totonac word for corn, spoken by the natives of Puebla. Currently, more than 600,000 Puebla residents call New York State home. Why do you think so many people from Puebla choose to come to New York?
Medina: New York is very Puebla. You won’t find many Poblanos in Los Angeles or Texas. Many of my staff are from Puebla, and even the cuisine is so different between Puebla and other parts of Mexico. For example, you will find that there are 40 to 50 kinds of moles outside of Puebla that do not use chocolate. In Puebla they make it in their mole poblano which makes it sweeter and less spicy. They have their own style of cuisine and culture which is different from all other states in Mexico.
Antonio: One of the pillars of Mexican culture is the love and dedication to food. How would you say growing up in Mexico City shaped your relationship with food?
Medina: My father made me breakfast every day and my grandfather cooked every Sunday for all his grandchildren. In Mexico the ladies do all the cooking, but in my family it was the opposite, so all the male figures did the cooking. That’s how I fell in love with cooking, watching them cook and eating as a family. Then when I was 17 I decided I wanted to get into the cooking world and start working in restaurants, so I did.
Antonio: So the biggest impact for you has been your family traditions?
Medina: Yes, in Mexico it is very popular for recipes to be passed down from generation to generation, that’s how I learned to cook, having recipes from my father and grandfather to prepare for meetings of family.
Antonio: Kuxé’s horchata is one of the best I’ve tasted in New York. What is the secret of his gluttony?
Medina: We use Mexican cinnamon. It’s my secret. Instead of using the regular cinnamon, we use the one from Mexico which has so much more flavor and is much more aromatic.
Antonio: What do you hope Kuxé brings to customers who come through its doors?
Medina: When you walk in, I want you to feel like you’re back in Mexico, eating in a fonda with the mayors — Mexican cooking mistresses – who have the touches that their mothers and grandmothers had.
Email Antonio Pelaez at [email protected]