Kate Green / Stuff
Luis Guajardo and his wife Sarhai Plata in their garden, with homemade Mexican golondrinas.
It was a football game on television that did it. The game, played quietly in a corner on a slow afternoon at the office, provided a much needed distraction.
Luis Guajardo hated his job.
He and his wife Sarhai Plata lived in Monterrey, Spain. His old life as a chef played through his mind, and stuck in an office, he felt like he was wasting away. But the money was better.
But as the football match played over him, he noticed the city: Wellington, New Zealand. On a whim, he typed in his search bar “Mexican restaurant Wellington” and clicked on the first one that came up.
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Less than four months later, he got off the plane. He spent five years at Five Boroughs in Mt Victoria, before opening Viva Mexico with his wife in Cuba St’s Left Bank. It closed after 3 and a half years, the couple got exhausted and looking for something new.
“People were still trying to book online a month after we closed,” he said. “We really closed at the top of this place. “
His passion for food started when he moved to England. A good friend of his – Italian, always passionate – was an exuberant cook. “Even when cooking potatoes, he was passionate,” recalls Guajardo.
The feeling was contagious and Guajardo joined him as the head of a restaurant. “It was just the two of us, running a 50-person, gourmet style restaurant.” It was truly a lesson to be thrown into the deep end.
At 20, he returned to Mexico and landed a job at one of “Monterrey’s oldest and chicest hotels”. He stayed there for a year, then took a job at the well-known Pangea restaurant nearby.
“I started from the bottom, chopping onions and garlic, until I came in third,” he said. He met his wife, also a chef (“She’s much better than me,” he laughs).
When the couple decided to tie the knot, they realized that they couldn’t survive on the salaries of two chefs. “In Mexico, a chef’s job doesn’t pay well,” he said.
You can take the man out of the kitchen, but you can’t take the man out of the kitchen.
When he moved from Monterrey to New Zealand after six years in an office, Plata followed him as soon as he found a place for them to live. They now live in a sunny apartment upstairs at Mount Victoria.
These days, Guajardo is working at Leeds St Bakery – a change for a man who has spent years standing on a grill, rather than elbows in flour – and reconnecting with his roots with a nearby food truck business. , Donnie Taco.
At this time of year, Mexican holiday traditions are further showcased and dusted off. It meant food, and lots of it.
A guaranteed favorite was something Guajardo knew as ‘golondrinas’, named after the last song played at a funeral: grilled tostadas covered with cheese, salsa, leftover meat from the barbecue, more. cheese, baked and topped with guacamole.
Salsa Macha (to sprinkle on the golondrinos)
- 5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 2 cups of canola oil
- ½ cup toasted peanuts or ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
- 2 guajillo peppers
- 4 Arbol peppers
- Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
Grill the garlic in a pan without oil over very low heat. Once the garlic is golden brown, add the oil, and once the oil is hot, add the roasted peanuts and stir occasionally. The oil should get quite hot and bubbly, this would be a good time to remove it from the heat and add the dry peppers.
Once it’s cold, bring it into the blender and pulse mix until the ingredients become tiny chunks of goodness. Add the salt and it’s ready to use. Enjoy!