The depth and cultural sensibility found in Mexican gastronomy is what makes it one of the world’s most complex, varied, and flavorful cuisines—and one of the reasons so many travelers visit the country year after year. Be it the ancient roots of maíz criollo that form the base of tortillas, or the complex layers of chiles and their origins that create dishes like mole that which take years to perfect, there’s no denying that Mexican food harbors the same kind of richness and heritage you might typically find in a culture’s architecture or language.
While each region of Mexico has its own signature dishes, it’s the capital of Mexico City—where the country’s influences collide—that has become one of the most exciting destinations to eat in the world. And for many Mexicans, especially cooks, it’s no surprise that most of the city’s top chefs are women. After all, culturally, women have always run the kitchens. For chefs like Mercedes Bernal of the restaurant Meroma in Roma Norte, it’s less a matter of gender and more a reflection of each woman’s talent and determination. “I am lucky to know many colleagues who are extremely talented, and happen to be women, who I greatly admire,” says Bernal. “Still, I believe that to be a good cook, you have to work hard. You have to dedicate time and effort to it. To me, that’s how women are—that’s how we show up. Always persevering, always working hard for what we have.”
While the strong presence of female chefs at the highest echelons of Mexico City’s restaurant industry may be impressive, chef Elena Reygadas of Rosetta—who was just named the World’s Best Female Chef 2023 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants—believes there’s still work to be done in terms of equality and inclusivity, both in and outside the kitchen. “In the world, and in Mexico specifically, women have historically been in charge of kitchens, cooking day after day in their homes, at fondas, at stalls, and in restaurants,” says Reygadas. “I am very excited to see that women chefs and their work are gaining recognition. However, I consider that the challenges in relation to gender equality are still enormous, both in the world of cooking and in society as a whole.”
For this reason, and the enormous responsibility she feels to both promote and strengthen female leadership in the industry, Reygadas created the Elena Reygadas Scholarship, which helps Mexican women who are studying cooking and need support to realize their vision. Like Reygadas, her fellow female chefs and peers in Mexico City believe in the power of the country’s cuisine to transmit cultural awareness in a way that is unmatched in any other aspect of life.
Here, as Vogue launches its Modern Mexico series honoring the country’s cultural pioneers, we spoke to a number of top female chefs in Mexico City who are blazing a trail for all women—in and out of the kitchen, in Mexico City and beyond.
Karina Mejía of Siembra Comedor
Together with her husband and chef Israel Montero, chef Karina Mejía opened Siembra Comedor at the end of 2022 in the ritzy Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. The restaurant was born with the fundamental value of honoring indigenous Mexican ingredients—especially chilis and maíz criollo, a type of corn central to their tortilla program. “We respect each product and its flavor and see cuisine as a way to honor the farms and communities of Mexico,” says Mejía. “Their work connects us with our roots and allows us to share our culture through each dish we make.” With the belief that cuisine is one of the most powerful methods of cultural storytelling, the couple sources many of their ingredients from small providers in Mexico’s central valley—orchards, ranches, and even markets. They also look to sustainable enterprises in Ensenada, Veracruz, and Sonora for their fresh catch, which is then featured across their starters, tacos, and main plates. The result is a soulful menu with dishes like oysters topped with peppery hoja santa and chocolate clams, as well as an array of tacos, from smoked marlin to chipotle shrimp.
Mercedes Bernal of Meroma
When the chef Mercedes Bernal opened Meroma in 2017 with her husband and partner Rodney Cusic, the eatery became an instant Roma Norte classic. Known for her production of small plates at Meroma, such as baby artichokes served with creamy jocoque and rotating seasonal plates like a pappardelle pasta made from sea urchin sourced from Baja California, Bernal takes great care to source the best ingredients available from nearby producers. She finds unique chiles and aromatic herbs grown in Malinalco or in Arca Tierra, a farm in the chinampas (or floating islands) of Mexico’s Xochimilco district. Bernal believes that a kitchen has a particular kind of power to connect people. “Food can tell stories, bridge gaps, and unite us as a community,” says Bernal. “But what I love most of all about cooking and what we do at Meroma is that we make people happy. What I enjoy more than anything else is to see someone’s reaction while they’re dining with us, how they are surprised by the flavors and texture we create.”
Elena Reygadas of Rosetta
When the chef Elena Reygadas opened the restaurant Rosetta in 2010 in the neighborhood of Roma Norte—which was later followed by Panadería Rosetta in 2012—she quickly became known as one of the most exciting chefs in Mexico City. Now, her famous guava and ricotta sweet roll is perhaps the most iconic sweet treat in the entire country—there are lines always queued around the block to order one. She has since expanded her group to include even more eateries, from Café Nin in Colonia Juárez to Bella Aurora (her most recent one) in Roma Norte. For Reygadas, food is meant to be pleasurable—but at the same time, it can also be a vehicle for progress. “I try to convey why it is important to respect the cycles of nature, consume local, and fight against industrialized products,” says Reygadas. “This is not only in terms of flavor but also well-being, nutrition, and the environment. I think that, from restaurants, we have to advocate for a healthy diet for our bodies and the environment. And also to promote biodiversity, fighting against the homogenization of the diet and the reduction of the products we consume.”
Karen Drijanski of Niddo
Known for offering some of the best comfort food in Mexico City, chef Karen Drijanski opened Niddo in 2018 as a family project with her son Eduardo Plaschinski. Now, this slow-food destination has expanded to even more locations. However, its mainstay eatery in the Colonia Juárez neighborhood is the classic one, and it still boasts long waiting lists of eager diners awaiting a table. “My kitchen has no borders,” explains Drijanski. “The origin comes from my life experience: what I cooked with my grandmothers, for my children, and what I learned during my travels.” Staple dishes include cheesy breakfast sandwiches with bacon and eggs, and pillowy pancakes with all sorts of toppings (from seasonal pumpkin butter to cheesecake crème fraîche with blueberry compote). For Drijanski, cooking is the ultimate expression of joy. “Life is a ceremony, and I celebrate mine by cooking.”
Fabiola Escobosa of Cana
Originally from Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, the chef Fabiola Escobosa opened her restaurant in Colonia Juárez this spring: Cana, a classic bistro offering dishes like habanero oysters and a creamy risotto topped with calamari and clams. With a goal to never manipulate an ingredient beyond its natural essence, Escobosa sources many of her ingredients from the Pacific coast of her upbringing, as well as from nearby producers like Hacienda La Grande and the supplier Nanae Watabe, who forages hongos silvestres (or wild mushrooms) from in and around Mexico City. For Escobosa, the secret to her kitchen is collaboration. “My mother advises me on everything. She has pastry shops in northern Mexico and has taught me so much about cooking,” says Escobosa, “Then there are women like Isabela Freydell, who runs Cana’s service and beverage program and complements each dish with excellent cocktails.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com
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