Photo: Sam Horine
A native of Mexico City, chef Roberto Santibañez grew up in his grandmother’s kitchen, where he learned that cooking does not always have to be by the book. His innovative style led him to create many successful contemporary Mexican restaurants, including one of our favorites, Park Slope’s Fonda—which has now has locations in Manhattan’s East Village and Chelsea as well.
Santibañez graduated from the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He returned home to Mexico City and founded three highly acclaimed restaurants before serving four years as executive chef at Fonda San Miguel in Austin. He spent another five years as culinary director of NYC’s Rosa Mexicano restaurants before opening the first of his local Fonda restaurants, in 2009.
Santibañez is also a celebrated cookbook author. His first release, Rosa’s New Mexican Table, was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award. His second, Truly Mexican, was named a New York Times notable cookbook in 2011. Food & Wine honored his third, Tacos, Tortas and Tamales, as one of the best cookbooks of 2012. He graciously took the time to answer a few of our questions about the restaurant scene in NYC.
Photo: Tagger Yancey IV
In 1997, I worked at Domingo’s restaurant (owned by Placido Domingo and Josefina Howard, a legend in the Mexican food world). It was amazing! In those days we use to be old school. We worked in their kitchens from 8am until midnight, and I had almost no time off. It was crazy, but I was happy.
It is the most competitive place in the world to run a business. Diners have hundreds of options all around them.
The City itself. Every block is full of different places to eat food. I love how energetic, dynamic and constantly evolving New York’s food industry is.
I was teaching a class on how to make tortillas, which I am generally good at. I couldn’t get one right that day. It took me forever to warm up to it.
The community has opened fabulous restaurants with great food and sophisticated atmospheres.
Instead of the usual tourist standbys, look for the great neighborhood restaurants.
Enchiladas de mole negro—chicken enchiladas covered in a Oaxacan black mole sauce that is incredibly complex and delicious.