If you’re tired of the hunt for authentic Mexican food in New York, look no further!
Chef Julian Medina opened his 10th restaurant on March 10. He rebranded the Thompson Street location of his chain restaurant Toloache in an effort to return to his roots. It’s now called Kuxe.
Medina grew up in Ciudad Satélite, an upper middle-class neighborhood in northern Mexico City. It was here that he first fell in love with food — a love he now wants to share right here near campus.
The staff has an input on Kuxe’s menu, and most of them immigrated from the Mexican state of Puebla. You can read a small blurb about each dish’s meaning to the chefs on the restaurant’s printed menus.
I had the opportunity to speak with Medina about his newest restaurant and even managed to get him to spill a few secrets.
Antonio: What sets Kuxé apart from your other restaurants?
Medina: At Kuxé, we wanted to showcase la comida del Pueblo, which basically means hometown cooking. It’s about the chefs making dishes they learned from their mothers and grandmothers, much like I did from my father and grandfather.
Antonio: So you’d say that it’s more of a familial and traditional feel?
Medina: Right, very authentic, very traditional. For example, we have dishes like tacos de barbacoa, which is steamed lamb rubbed in chiles, that is very traditional in Mexico. We have blue and white corn tortillas, homemade with the corn we bring in from Oaxaca. So, you know, [it’s] such a unique thing we are doing that you could find in a small family-oriented restaurant or bodega in Mexico that we have brought to the city now.
Antonio: On Kuxé’s opening day, you posted on Instagram with the caption, “So proud of my team, Kuxé is for them and because of them!” Could you explain this further?
Medina: Sometimes the staff doesn’t get as much recognition as the chef or the owner. But in this case, they came up with the menu. They came up with the dishes. When we were making the menu all together, I said, “Remember, that is your dish — and it has nothing to do with me.” I told them they should come up with their own plating and even pick their own garnish, if they want.
Antonio: Kuxé is the word for corn in Totonac, spoken by the indigenous people native of Puebla. Currently, more than 600,000 people from Puebla call New York state home. Why do you think so many people from Puebla choose to come to New York?
Medina: New York is very Puebla. You won’t find a lot of Poblanos in Los Angeles or Texas. A lot of my staff are from Puebla, and even cooking is so different between Puebla and other parts of Mexico. For example, you will find there are 40-50 kinds of moles outside of Puebla that don’t use chocolate. In Puebla, they do in their mole poblano, which makes it more sweet and not as spicy. They have their own style of cooking and culture there that is different to all the other states in Mexico.
Antonio: One of the pillars of Mexican culture is the love and dedication put toward food. How would you say growing up in Mexico City shaped your relationship with cooking?
Medina: My dad used to cook breakfast for me every day, and my grandfather used to cook every Sunday for all his grandkids. In Mexico, the ladies do all the cooking, but in my family it was the opposite, so all the male figures did the cooking. That’s how I fell in love with cooking, watching them cook and eating meals with family. Then when I was 17, I decided I wanted to go into the culinary world and start working in restaurants, so that’s what I did.
Antonio: So the biggest impact for you was your family traditions?
Medina: Yeah, in Mexico, it’s very popular for recipes to be passed from generation to generation, so that is how I learned how to cook, having recipes from my father and grandfather to make for family gatherings.
Antonio: The horchata at Kuxé is one of the best I have tried in New York. What is the secret to its deliciousness?
Medina: We use Mexican cinnamon. That’s my secret. Instead of putting the regular cinnamon, we use the Mexican one which has so much more flavor to it and is much more aromatic.
Antonio: What do you hope Kuxé will bring to the customers that walk through its doors?
Medina: When you walk in, I want it to feel like you are back in Mexico, eating in a fonda with the mayoras — Mexican female cooking masters — who have the touches their mothers and grandmothers used to have.
Email Antonio Pelaez at [email protected]