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Chefs Tips and Tricks : ¡Buen provecho!

With access to the freshest produce, best beef, poultry, and pork here in Alberta, Mexican cuisine has been making itself known in the province for the last few years. It’s as diverse as any, with each region in Mexico using what is available while drawing from deeply rooted traditions and culture.  


This month, our four Alberta chefs share a common thread: they all grew up in kitchens watching the women in their families recreate dishes that were passed down to them. A buen tiempo – you’re just in time - it’s their turn to share those traditions and flavours with us!  


It seems rather fitting that the chef at Calgary’s Tres Marias is named Mary. She adds, “I prefer to be addressed as one of the Marias at Tres Marias!” And, for Chef Mary, like the rest of our chefs this month, her cooking is influenced by a female family member: her mother.  

“I strive to bring all the authentic Mexican recipe from back home so that I feel at home here in Canada,” she explains, adding that her son and her husband also inspire her. “My husband prefers the homemade touch and truly enjoys what I prepare for our family. At Tres Marias I feel I’m preparing food for both my family and the customers.” 

Pork pastor with a side of guacamole is her favourite dish, but if she’s feeding the whole family, it’s Torta Azteca Beef – a kind of ‘lasagna’ layered with fresh corn tortillas for the win. 

When making Mexican food in Alberta, Chef Mary says, “It's essential to be creative and adaptable. Seek out fresh, high-quality produce, and explore local markets for unique ingredients.” 

Cortadillo Norteño is a dish from Northern Mexico, and one that Chef Mary’s mother often prepared. It uses minimal ingredients, which makes it easy to enjoy any day of the week. Don’t overcook the meat and adjust the heat to your liking. “If you enjoy spiciness, don't hesitate to include some jalapenos in the salsa for an extra kick.” 


Chef Victor Hugo of Edmonton’s Spicy Amigos draws inspiration from his roots in Oaxaca, where family members taught him traditional recipes and techniques of the region. “I grew up watching my grandmother in the kitchen, preparing recipes passed down by our ancestors,” he explains. “Growing up in Mexico City, I have a love for, and am inspired by, Mexican street food – which is full of character and flavour.” 


The menu at Spicy Amigos is always changing: “We’re constantly sharing new tacos and street food dishes all the time!” Pork chorizo and birria tacos are familiar favourites, along with the simplicity and flavour of the black bean tacos. 

While Alberta is about 5,000 km from Mexico City, there’s still an abundance of produce here that suits Mexican cuisine. “Medicine Hat / Redcliff is the paradise of tomatoes and hot peppers. People are surprised when we tell them our hot sauces use Alberta habaneros and jalapeños.” 


Flautas are a classic Mexican dish, found on most dinner tables. “They are easy to make and can be customized to accommodate vegetarians, vegans and gluten sensitivities,” says Chef Hugo.  


“The most important things to do when making Mexican food is to have fun and to always cook with love. And remember – Mexican street food is meant to be messy and loaded with toppings, garnishes, and salsas!"


Also hailing from Oaxaca, Georgina Mejia, owner and chef of Calgary’s Aroma Café and Bar, learned the art of cooking from the women in her family: her mother, aunts, and sisters. “Coffee is my passion, but my life revolves around cooking, and creating unforgettable flavour in my dishes.” 


“Our customers tell us they come to Aroma because it has authentic flavours and home-style food that reminds them of their mothers’ cooking.” Forget Taco Tuesday: Aroma has Taco Friday, and it has a strong and loyal following. “Every Friday we’re making chicken tinga, pork, and veggie tacos,” says Chef Georgina. 


Mexican cuisine is a broad subject, as each region has their own cuisine. Chef’s advice? “I would recommend try to learn about one specific region and start trying to make some plates.” 

To start: Tortilla Soup. “This is very easy to make, and you can find all the ingredients in Alberta.” If you get stuck, Chef says to try searching one of Alberta’s Mexican or Latin grocers for the things you can’t find.  


Before you begin, make sure you have everything you need within reach, she adds. Watch your chilies carefully to make sure they don’t burn. And keep those tortilla strips crispy! “If they are too wet, the flavour changes and you might end up creating chilaquiles instead!” 


“Mexico City is La Patrona’s influence, and my mom is the inspiration,” says Chef Carlos, owner of Edmonton’s La Patrona. “Watching my mother cook instilled in me the passion for food and flavours,” he continues.  


The bonus is when the chefs (like Chef Arisbel Mendoza, pictured here) share food with guests, and they in turn share their joy when they taste it. With a menu boasting dishes such as quesadillas doradas, torta cubana, campechano tacos, and huarache asada, we have no doubt there’s a lot of joy going around La Patrona’s dining room. 


If you want to try your hand with Mexican cuisine, shop around for the freshest ingredients: “It shows the love you put into your food.”  


La Patrona’s recipe for Tacos Campechano is made with ingredients that are easy to find. A blend of suadero (braised brisket) and chorizo, the flavours are reminiscent of taquerias in Mexico City. “These tacos are a family-style meal,” Chef Carlos continues. “It’s a great way to sit down together and share a meal and not get stuck in the kitchen.” 


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