“I wanted the corn to be the star of every dish,” said Matthew Diaz, culinary director of For All Things Good, the restaurant he runs alongside chef Carlos Macias. Before ballooning into a restaurant at two locations, a neighborhood staple in Bed-Stuy and a new cafe in Williamsburg, For All Things Good was initially a molinera, a store dedicated to high-quality tortilla masa. Diaz’s focus on the tortilla was the impetus behind opening his business. He noted that while tortillas are a staple of Mexican cuisine, they’re often overshadowed by overwhelming star ingredients — think, as Diaz put it, “2-day-old braised beef.” Diaz sees the tortilla as just as essential as protein, and by focusing on it, therefore, attempts to elevate it to its rightful culinary position.
Nixtamalization, the complex process that energetically turns corn into masa, separates For All Things Good from other Mexican restaurants that only use corn flour, primarily due to the time-consuming nature and high costs of creating masa at the old one. In the case of For All Things Good, the entire building’s electrical system had to be rewired to meet the energy requirements of a volcanic rock mill. But those high costs are ultimately worth it – much like an Italian restaurant making fresh pasta, the difference in taste is apparent. The tortilla is not only a medium but an indispensable part of the dish, with delicate, nutty and sweet notes.
For All Things Good sources corn from Masienda and Tamoa, two brands that work with small family farms across Mexico, promoting the importance of ancient corn varieties. As Diaz touted, these companies are protecting those “who have spent generations protecting this biodiversity.” Especially given the increasing homogenization of corn caused by industrial farming practices and continued reliance on GMOs, these companies are playing a crucial and resilient role. By selling varieties such as the yellow tuxpeño or the cacahuazintle, they serve almost as the final bastion protecting the complexity of maize and the interests of small farmers.
These different species of corn, as Diaz suggests, have distinct flavor profiles. Diaz, who has a history in winemaking, sees parallels between masa and wine, especially when it comes to their reliance on hyper-specificity. Whether it was the type of corn or the specific climatic conditions of certain regions, the rapture with which Diaz spoke of the complex differences between Oaxacan and Michoacan grains was astounding.
Working with multiple maize species comes with its own challenges. Diaz explained that depending on the type of corn, he alters the “already tricky process” of nixtamalization, “changing cooking temperature, cooking time, [and] the amount of cow you use. In the kitchen, there is a spirit of experimentation, this collaborative process of trial and error, where everyone works to revise recipes.
As a restaurateur, these efforts are paying off. For All Things Good is not only the home of the best tortillas in Brooklyn, but its menu is full of wonderfully balanced and subtle dishes. The wonderful tinga and aguacate tacos aren’t about a single note but an interplay, about how creaminess interacts with citrus. The menu is filled with playful dishes – mezcal-marinated mushrooms and telalas showing off the typically incidental poblano pepper. By focusing on supporting and often overlooked ingredients, For All Things Good creatively breaks with tradition.
Discussing the creation of the menu, Diaz claimed, “It creates a fun challenge to create complete, complex dishes without adding protein. It got to the point where adding a protein almost felt like cheating. You’re like, ‘Ah, I can’t find a way to finish this dish. I guess I’ll put the chorizo.’ In this search for balance, there was a light but intense ambition.
Yet despite their apparent mastery of Mexican cuisine, Matt Diaz is unsatisfied. Diaz emphasizes learning and growing. Although he participated in several maize symposialots of workshops corn story and nixtamalization techniques, Diaz says there are still many disputes to be resolved and many ways to improve his seminal mass. Between chefs, Diaz argued that “there is still a lot of discussion about what techniques you use, why do you want to use them, where do you rely on tradition, where do you rely on the more scientific interpretation things. Ultimately, much of Diaz’s process is iterative, slowly figuring out how to improve her masa without being agnostic about indigenous culinary traditions and history.
As a result, Diaz’s focus on learning means his culinary journey will soon go beyond perfecting masa with ancient corn. His goal is to understand the innate regional complexities of beans, peppers and hibiscus. Diaz continues on his path to agricultural expertise – and we can’t wait to find out what’s next.