Back when I was a kid in elementary school, my grandmother was always telling me to get out of the kitchen. ‘The kitchen is for women‘, she used to say. It was like that for quite some time…One day, when the moment came for me to decide what to do with my life, my mother told me: You know? You’ve always cooked, you’re always in the kitchen – why don’t you study Gastronomy? And so I did…From day one, I realized that it was my calling. That’s what I was born to do.
Sous-Chef Alejandro Meléndez was born in Chihuahua, in the northern region of Mexico. Brought up in a loving, traditional Mexican family; he has fond memories of his childhood, particularly of his grandmother. ‘She cooked everything herself, at home: cheese, chorizo, chicharrón…I have the same passion for food’, Meléndez says. With a career that has taken him from Chihuahua, to Mexico City (where he worked with Chef Olivier Lombard), to San Miguel de Allende, to Dubai, and then back to San Miguel, Meléndez feels like he has at last returned home. His passion for food has found an ideal scenario at 1826 Restaurant of Rosewood San Miguel de Allende; as a key member of Executive Chef Víctor Palma’s team.
‘When someone tries one of our dishes, I want them to think: ‘Wow, this actually tastes like authentic, great, delicious street food’. Meléndez is not a fan of the new trends, such as molecular cuisine. ‘I think those dishes are beautiful to look at; but I feel that they lose a lot of the essence of what we really want to eat when we’re travelling’, he says. He believes that travellers are hungry for authentic, tasty street food because it conveys the soul of each country much better than any other kind of food. ‘What Chef Palma and I are trying to do is bring the soul of street food to each plate served at 1826 Restaurant; street food, but in a finer, more aesthetically pleasant version; the goal is that when people taste it, it will have the same amazing flavour explosion that we can find in Mexican street food’.
The excitement is palatable: at 1826 Restaurant, patrons – many of them also guests staying at Rosewood San Miguel de Allende, of course – enjoy inventive and mouth-watering dishes; all of them in one way or another are re-interpretations of classic staples of Mexican home cuisine and Mexican street food. Take breakfast, for example: ‘We have Market-style eggs Benedict; they have chicharrón (pork rind) at the bottom; then the eggs; on top of the eggs there is the usual hollandaise sauce but we give it the Mexican twist with some chile de árbol – it’s scrumptious’. What about lunch? ‘Our signature dish for lunch is the molcajete; I always refer to it as the Mexican version of a fondue. We place the hot molcajete, then some tomatillo/tomato sauce; a bit of chile guajillo to give it colour and spiciness – both essential to any Mexican -; three portions of cheese, and then the waiter mixes it in front of the customer. We serve it with hand-made tortillas. I think it would be very difficult to find another dish in our lunch menu that surpasses this one in popularity’.
The key ingredient of every dish at 1826 Rosewood? Attention to detail, translated into passion. When Sous Chef Meléndez tells us about the thought process and the inventive details that go into the creation of every dish, it’s impossible not to share in his enthusiasm. All the vegetables used in the dishes are local, fresh and in-season. Many of the dishes give room for variation so that they can incorporate seasonal ingredients; therefore, the experience is always different. What doesn’t vary is the absolute quality. What is the secret for this culinary success?
‘I love what I do. When I started cooking professionally, I stopped ‘working’. I love it. I’m here all the time; but every time a patron leaves happy and says ‘this is what I came to taste at 1826 Restaurant!’, it’s just all you need. Particularly the whole team in the kitchen; those guys are the most important part. I provide the ideas, but they’re the ones who actually execute the whole process. They’re my and Executive Chef Palma’s support. Without them we wouldn’t be able to do anything’.
This is not just excellent food: it’s a life experience unlike any we’ve had the pleasure of having in San Miguel de Allende. Perhaps that’s why Sous Chef’s Alejandro Meléndez’s words still ring in our ears, in our stomachs…and in our hearts:
On a personal level, gastronomy fullfills me; and I know our team in the kitchen feels the same way. Whenever one of the customers thanks us, it’s such a great feeling. I believe that in the kitchen of 1826 Restaurant we are all in tune, we have the same beliefs when it comes to food.That’s what makes us keep looking for new ideas, every single day.