Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve never taken either of the kids to a press event before. But on Tuesday night I found myself in the middle of a tequila-tasting masterclass at a new restaurant launch with my four-year-old in tow. Because, you know: life.
To be fair, he was really good for most of it, only losing the plot after one too many churros at quarter-to-bedtime. And I only felt marginally guilty that I was dragging him along to ‘work’, because – let’s face it – it certainly didn’t feel like I was working.
The restaurant in question is MEXIco, which has just opened on Bedford’s new Riverside North development, overlooking the river. It’s billed as ‘the true taste of Mexico’, with chef-to-the-stars, Johnny Hernandez, bringing authentic Mexican home cooking to Blighty. And although I can’t tell you how it compares to the real deal, having never been to Mexico in my life, I can tell you I ate most of the menu and it is really, incredibly, good.
There’s only so much you can take in when you’re trying to prevent a small person from dropping your phone – mid Lego Batman game – into your margarita. But, I worked my way through everything from spicy fish tacos to saucy beef enchiladas in the name of research, rounded them off with the best churros of my life (and I’ve had many, many churros) and washed them down with, you guessed it, more tequila cocktails. For the research, you see.
Speaking of which, I can also tell you that tequila isn’t meant to be slammed with salt and lime. Oh no – just ask Andy Balsillie, who talked us through tequila’s chequered past.
Scrap the cheap stuff and ask the barman at MEXIco for a Herradura Plata on the rocks, drink it slowly, and you’ll be surprised that it doesn’t actually taste remotely like you thought (here’s Charlie from Mess & Merlot and I getting a sniff of the good stuff).
What else? The cantina-style interior at MEXIco is very cool and I want to copy it somewhere – anywhere – in my house. Churros with caramel are even better than they are with chocolate. Tacos are soft, not crunchy. Flan is a big deal in Mexico, rather than a seventies throwback.
I can also tell you that, sometimes, taking your kids to work has its benefits. As I sipped tequila and nibbled on tacos, my son interviewed the lovely Johnny with the help of some questions he’d prepared before we got there. So without further ado, I’m going to sink the tequila miniature I got in my goodie bag and pass you over to him for the rest of this blog post.
How To Be A Chef, with Johnny Hernandez at MEXIco Bedford
I’m four, but I’m nearly five. When did you decide to become a chef?
Almost the same as you! I was five years old when I learned to make a tortilla, but I grew up in my dad’s kitchen. I would have to stand on a chair or a crate to reach the cutting board – I was only small. I loved eating and I was curious about food so…
I love eating!
You do? Me too!
How do I become a chef if I want to then?
Well, the great thing about the food industry is that it’s become a respected profession now, and in school, as you grow up, there are classes that you can take towards that career. Back home in San Antonio we have a foundation for youth education, so we mentor young culinarians every day. It takes a lot of dedication and a lot of hard work, and the best way to start is by getting in to the kitchen as soon as you can.
Like, to eat food?
Well, that, and also to make it, yeah…
Well, I want to be a sweet-eater when I grow up, which is a bit like a chef. Do you like sweets?
Ahhhhh, I do. It’s a weakness. What’s great about the pastry world and dessert world is that they’ve also progressed and it’s now a career choice to be a bona fide pastry chef. You know, I had a chef I used to work with, and he had a chocolate room about the size of half of this restaurant. It was climate-controlled and he made all sorts of chocolate sculptures…
… *stares blankly into the distance, presumably imagining a chocolate room*…
So er, did you have another question for me?
My mum told me you cooked for someone quite important [Barack Obama]. Were you scared?
Well, it was an honour to go to the White House and prepare food for such a special individual. I’m always a little nervous, but it’s a good thing, because it means I’m being challenged. I cooked for Cinco de Mayo and it was a huge Mexican feast.
I’ve never been to Mexico. What should I eat first if I go there?
One of the signature dishes of the restaurant are the tacos that we make, so I think I’d go with those. It’s also hard to beat a good plate of enchiladas.
Well I really like puddings, so…
Ahhh in that case, I love a good flan – that’s why I put it on the menu, too. It’s creamy, it’s rich, it has sugar, caramel… it is to die for.
…*whispers* Mummy, what does the chef man want me to die for?…
Never mind, kiddo. Never mind.
With thanks to MEXIco Bedford for inviting us along.