Dishtag chats with Chef Alfonso on sustainable Mexican street food in Hong Kong
Te Quiero Mucho, the new Mexican eatery recognizable by the large terrace and picture-perfect settings inside the boutique hotel Mojo Nomad, sparks attention in the heart of Sheung Wan with its sensational bites and authentic Mexican dining experience crafted by Guadalajara-native Chef Jose Alfonso Rodriguez. We chat to Chef Alfonso, who just won his 7th cooking contest, about his culinary journey, and how he redefines a hotel restaurant.
Can you tell us about how you started as a chef and the competitions you won?
I started working in the kitchen at 13 years old, and now I’m almost 30. I have been working around Mexico, Miami, Orlando, Spain, and here in Hong Kong for around 8 months. Throughout my career, I have always enjoyed taking part in cooking competitions, which help improve my craft and connect with other culinary talents. Like last year, I was part of the San Pellegrino Young Chef competition in New York, and another one in Hong Kong, which we got to prepare dishes with star judges from various well-known fine-dining restaurants in town. It was a really interesting experience.
Contrary to regular hotel restaurants, TQM serves all-day share-style dishes, why is it important in your culinary curation here to accentuate this idea?
I think sharing to me is to create interaction between people at the table. It’s not the same when you order you own taco and I order mine. Share-style dishes encourage people to have something in the middle to try together, to exchange opinions and just to socialize.
It’s interesting that you include the cricket taco on your menu, do you see the locals becoming less conservative regarding this sort of delicacy or are you trying to challenge the boundary of the locals?
Not really, haha. I understand that Hong Kong people are very open-minded and have seen a lot of unconventional stuff, like beef tongue, which although in Mexican standard is not too crazy, it does prove that the locals are used to trying atypical food. So I am also intrigued to see what people say about this dish. But I don’t think they are too scared about it.
And how do you prepare the dish?
Staying true to what you will actually find in Mexico, we mix some beans, guacamole, and put crickets on top of the taco, so it’s like the complement of the dish, not the main part of it.
One can’t walk out of a Mexican restaurant without having a glass or two, so what is your favourite cocktail-snack combo here at TQM?
My personal choice is taco and beer, simple and good, like what we do back in Mexico. For guests in general, I will recommend margarita for ladies, and beer for the male.
Where do you source your ingredients to keep the authentic flavours here in Hong Kong?
We focus on the Mexican street food but I also need to check what I have around to develop the menu. For example, the beef here is easy to find, cheap and reliable, so I include the beef tongue tacos on the menu. We also try to keep a balanced diet by serving tortillas, since Mexican dishes are mostly meat and seafood based. Corn is a major part in our diet too, as you know, we have different varieties. In the future, we are trying to bring those kinds of corns to Hong Kong and make tortillas from scratch. Right now, we are using the ready-made one imported from Mexico, served exclusively here, and the taste is very close to the traditional one.
How important is food presentation to you in relation to the camera-friendliness for potential exposure on social media?
I used to do a lot of creative dishes in other kinds of cuisine with very nice presentation, so when they talk about the concept, I immediately think of doing Mexican street food but with refined plating. Like this dessert for example, it is a dessert my grandma used to give me for dinner. (Just this for dinner?) Haha. Just sometimes, not everyday, maybe once a month. Although of course she didn’t present it like the version I am creating here, which is very camera-friendly, keeping it interesting to the eyes as much as to the palate. I think presentation is important to any kind of business wherever you are in the world nowadays, and social media is a good tool to spread the voice.
What is your next move?
Oh, I can’t say much at the moment but I have something big and exciting coming up in May. Perhaps it will shake the industry too. But I really can’t talk too much about it now. I am so looking forward to it.
Chef Alfonso left us all feeling so thrilled about this upcoming project of his. Stay tuned with Dishtag to unveil his next move! Meanwhile, Te Quiero Mucho’s visual menu is available on Dishtag. Check it out for some kicking Mexican flavours to enjoy with your friends.