Chef Susana Alvarez’s recently opened Villa Azteca in Salinas has a menu with dishes reminiscent of Mexican recipes passed down through generations. Few of these dishes, however, fit into the what’s expected of “traditional.” Alvarez refined her skills for creating new versions of classic Mexican dishes while running a catering company with her family for over a decade.
Weekly (in Spanish): How would you define your style?
Alvarez: It’s food that is traditional and artisanal. As a girl I had a love for cooking passed down from seeing my mother make food and watching cooking TV shows. I don’t want to do the same style from those old days. I want to innovate.
How do you combine traditional recipes with your new ideas?
I’ll always be evolving the food to show people how versatile Mexican food is. While catering, I sometimes experiment with new dishes like mole blanco topped with fried kale. If people like it then I’ll think about offering it on the menu. I find inspiration everywhere, from browsing the internet to traveling to Mexico.
There are a lot of Mexican restaurants around.
I want to show that Mexican food is much more than tacos and burritos. We want to serve food that can break stereotypes. In every region of Mexico there is a rich culinary history. When these flavors intermingle, you can see the value of food beyond the money.
What do you like about running a restaurant with your family?
I enjoy being able to teach my family to cook and seeing where their tastes take them. My son wants to be a gourmet chef now. In reality, opening the restaurant was a family dream and it couldn’t be done without the support of my husband and children.