Kate Green / Stuff
Luis Guajardo and his wife Sarhai Plata in their garden, with homemade Mexican swallows.
It was a soccer game on television that did it. The game, played quietly in the 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 previous life as a chef played on his mind and, trapped in an office, he felt like he was wasting away. But the money was better.
But as the soccer game was being played above him, he noticed the city: Wellington, New Zealand. On a whim, he typed “Wellington Mexican Restaurant” into his search bar and clicked on the first one that appeared.
* Silver Fern Farms will join a handful of Kiwi companies offering carbon-free products.
* If you want a thriving edible garden, avoid these mistakes
* The best summer meals in Aotearoa and where to find them
Less than four months later he got off the plane. He spent five years at Five Boroughs on Mt Victoria, before opening Viva México with his wife at Cuba St’s Left Bank. It closed after 3 1/2 years, the couple burned out and looked for something new.
“People were still trying to book online a month after we closed,” he said. “We really closed in the prime of that place.”
His passion for food started when he moved to England. A good friend of hers, an Italian, always passionate, was an exuberant cook. “Even cooking potatoes he was passionate about it,” recalls Guajardo.
The feeling was contagious and Guajardo joined him running a restaurant. “It was just the two of us, running a restaurant for 50 people, haute cuisine style.” It was truly a lesson in being thrown to the bottom.
At age 20, he returned to Mexico and got a job in one of the “oldest and most elegant hotels in Monterrey.” He spent a year there and then took a job at the famous Pangea restaurant nearby.
“I started at the bottom, chopping onions and garlic, until I got to third place,” he said. He met his wife, also a chef (“She’s so much better than me,” he laughed).
When the couple decided to get married, they realized that they couldn’t survive on the salaries of two chefs. “In Mexico, a chef job doesn’t pay well,” he said.
You can get the man out of the kitchen, but you can’t get the kitchen out of the man.
When he moved from Monterrey to New Zealand after six years in an office, Plata followed him as soon as he found a place to live. They now live on a sun-drenched upstairs in Mount Victoria.
These days, Guajardo works at Leeds St Bakery, a change for a man who had spent years standing on a grill, instead of up to his elbows in flour, and reconnecting with his roots with a nearby food truck company, Donnie Taco. .
At this time of year, Mexican Christmas traditions are still being pulled out and dusted. That meant food and a lot.
A guaranteed favorite was something Guajardo knew as “swallows,” the name of the last song played at a funeral: grilled toast covered in cheese, salsa, leftover barbecue meat, plus cheese, baked and topped with guacamole.
Macha sauce (to drizzle on top of the swallows)
- 5 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 2 cups canola oil
- ½ cup roasted peanuts or ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
- 2 guajillo chilies
- 4 arbol chiles
- Salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
Toast the garlic in a frying pan without oil over very low heat. Once the garlic is golden brown, add the oil, and once the oil is heated, add the roasted peanuts and stir occasionally. The oil should be quite hot and bubbly, this would be the right time to remove it from the heat and add the dried chilies.
Once cool, take it to the blender and pulse until the ingredients turn into little chunks of goodness. Add the salt and it is ready to use. Enjoy!