In Pass: Chef Mark Mendez On The Serious Taste of Latin Cuisine | Latin Sounds | Chicago News

The colors and flavors of Latin cuisine can now be found all over Chicago, but it hasn’t always been considered worthy of fine dining. Mark Mendez, chef of Skokie’s Libertad restaurant, said that Latin cuisine deserves a place among the world’s greatest culinary traditions.

“This food is as serious as anything out there,” Mendez said. “So let’s talk about it and cook it up and show people how serious we can be.”

Chef Mendez on Being Half Puerto Rican

“My house was kind of like ‘I Love Lucy’ when I was growing up, I don’t know what ‘I Love Lucy’ is anymore, but my father was Puerto Rican and my mother was from the lower state of Illinois. . And that was the 50’s, right? My dad said, ‘If we’re going to get married, you gotta know how to cook Puerto Rican food,’ right? So tostone, arroz con gandules, pastel, you should know how to do everything, you should know how to do it. So they went to Puerto Rico. My grandmother taught him how to cook Puerto Rican food and then he came back and they got married.

“My mom is a great cook and she loved making it. I used to pull the skirt when I was a kid. ‘What are you doing? What are you doing?’ The first thing he taught me was making stones. And then, learning from my father, who was extremely proud of his legacy, he would take me to Humboldt Park and we would go shopping so I could learn what yucca and platano are.

Chef Mendez on Latin Cuisine

“There has to be a level of spice. It doesn’t have to be spicy. There must be something there. It should be brightly colored, I feel. It must be lively, richly acidic. Let’s hit all these notes, because that’s what Latin American food is. The French and Italians can do whatever they want, and I think we should do what we want.”

Chief Mendez on Sourcing from Farmers Markets

“I started going because I saw other chefs do it, other chefs I respect. I said OK, these guys go to the grocery store, why are they going? I just wondered and remember going with the attitude to one of my co-chefs, ‘How different can it be? For example, carrots are carrots, man.’ I remember saying exactly those words, like, ‘Carrots are carrots, come on.’ Then when I got there, I remember trying one of the farmer’s arugula and my head was blown because I was like: I’ve never tasted anything like it in my life. In the summer, when there’s so much in season, I always overdo it. “I run away. I always say I’m not, and I always say. I always buy a lot of tomatoes, peppers or chili peppers and it’s just, it’s summer, my friend. Get it while you’re at it and then it’s gone.”

Chef Mendez Listens To His Wife

“My restaurant had this coleslaw on the menu and I hated it. I hated it because chefs are like that. I’ll give you an idea of ​​how chefs are. He sold like crazy, so of course I hated him. I wanted to take it out and she said, ‘Mark, people really like this salad. But I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care. I am chief. I will do what I want.’ And then we took it off the menu and people – saying they were sorry didn’t even come close. And then I started thinking about it. What have I done? Why did I do this? And you know, I should have listened to him in the first place.

Chef Mendez at Chef Effy Medrano

Executive chef at Purple Pig. And he was a child when I started in Spiaggia. I was young but he was younger but he was there longer and showed me the ropes. It really helped me. He was tough on me, but on the good side and really helped me learn the skills you need to survive as a cook. He’s a great cook, a good chef, but he’s not the only one, is he? It’s like how many cooks in 32 years have shown me how to do something?