Chef Mario Castro joins Garza Blanca Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast from SLS South Beach, Miami where the young chef collaborated with 3 Star Michelin chef, José Andrés. Bringing an abundance of talent and enthusiasm to the kitchen at Blanca Blue restaurant, the passionate and driven chef has already inspired the culinary evolution of this fine dining venue in Puerto Vallarta.
Presenting Mexican Avant-Garde Cuisine, Chef Mario Castro has revolutionized the menu and concept at one of Puerto Vallarta’s most exclusive restaurants, entertaining the taste buds of hotel guests and local diners alike at Blanca Blue restaurant.
Take a look at what the experimental chef has to say about Blanca Blue Restaurant’s new concept, life as a chef, and the future of fine dining in this insightful interview.
Tell us about the new menu at Blanca Blue
Firstly, it is worth noting that it is not just a change of menu or concept, it is a whole new era for Blanca Blue restaurant. The inspiration is Mexican Avant-Garde Cuisine; that is, we are using traditional ingredients and culinary customs from Mexico’s villages and towns, applying new, cutting-edge techniques to create flavorsome dishes for modern taste buds. For example, we will be using some molecular techniques like foams, airs etc, yet remaining faithful to Mexican flavors or using ancient culinary techniques with more modern ingredients. My passion is to create authentic yet modern dishes, where our diners will find those elements they love about Mexican food turned into inspiring works of art. I don’t want to make a fusion, I want it to be traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients but with avant-garde techniques. My favorite ingredients are those native ingredients that have been used in Mexico for hundreds of years: corn, huitlacoche, pumpkin blossom and so on.
Why did you decide on Mexican avant-garde cuisine?
My mother is from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and I spent the first 10 years of my life in Mexico before going to Florida in the United States with all my family. I was brought up with authentic Mexican food. My mother is a really traditional Mexican woman; you know, humble, wears colorful shawls, braids in her hair etc. She would make tortillas each day with her hands. So, when the resort’s owner and founder, Mr. Gonzalez, asked me to prepare a Mexican menu, like something from Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, I decided to do what I know best. Rather than imitate, I decided to focus on authentic Mexican cuisine, employing the gourmet, cutting-edge textures, tastes and techniques that I have learned throughout my career so far, having worked as an intern for 6 months at El Bulli, sous chef at the Waldorf Astoria in Florida, Chef de Cuisine at The Bazaar by Jose Andres at SLS in Florida amongst other key positions and gourmet festivals.
What dish from the new menu is a “must try” for diners?
Most certainly the stone soup. This is a fascinating dish that is based on a native ritualistic delicacy in Oaxaca in honor of the gods, where the most pure women of the village would prepare a large hole and fill it with river water and seasoning while the men go out to fish. During this time, they would heat rocks from the river in a fire so that when the men returned with the fish they would put the red hot stones in the water to cook the fish. Like a barbecue, just a barbecue with water. The stone soup on the new menu is my tribute to this ritual. We will be using a freshwater shrimp in red snapper broth.
Why did you choose to return to Mexico and join Tafer Hotels & Resorts?
I returned for personal reasons when my father died but I feel that the reason I am back here in Mexico, working with Tafer Hotels & Resorts is no coincidence. I felt a click with Mr. Fernando Gonzalez. He understands what it means to create something new. I feel there is room with Tafer for experimentation, the freedom to create and be an authentic chef. If I find myself now in Mexico it is to explore my art as much as possible, to become among the 50 best chefs in Latin America. I love the phrase in Mexico that says ‘para ser chignon, chignon y medio!’ which translates as something like, ‘if you are going to be the best, be the best and a half!’
Which chefs do you admire most and why?
For sure, Ferran Adrià, the father of deconstructive and molecular cuisine from El Bulli in Spain. He was the inspiration behind the techniques first launched in the 90s that have given modern dining its distinctive textures, flavours and unique experiences.
In Mexico, I am a fan of Jorge Vallejo with his restaurant Quintonil in Polanco, Mexico City. He is a really humble man; the restaurant is small, for around 40 people, nothing fancy, pretty normal, and while his cuisine is really simple it is full of flavor. The quelite salad on the new menu at Blanca Blue is a kind of tribute to Vallejo, albeit remastered, featuring the Quintonil dressing, but I have added a peanut bar to the usual ingredients —radishes, dark and light leaves etc— because the dish needs to have that balance of crunchy and sweet.
What makes a good chef?
Knowing who you are as a chef, the right tools and culinary experiences are key. The first thing I did once I began earning a decent wage was to invest in my tools. First, I invested in my knives —each knife costs between 500 and 2000 dollars— and my equipment. Once I was set up in terms of my tools I began to invest in culinary experiences. I began to go to all the best restaurants that I could. My mother always asks me why I spend so much money on dining, and I tell her that these experiences are central to my development as a chef. I see eating like having an orgasm in your mouth, that explosion of flavors. To be a good chef, you have to be totally committed. For me, the only thing that exists is myself and food. Nothing else matters.
What is the future for gourmet cuisine in the world in general?
I think that Spain will continue to take the lead with even more new techniques to influence the world of gourmet dining, things like edible balloons and different ways of cooking and preparing; there are so many more techniques and they are getting better and better.
Tell us about your Tattoos
I have lots, but the main ones on my arms are the chemical formulas for the seven basic flavors: salt, pepper, capsaicin (the spicy taste of chilli), sweet, bitter, sour (citric acid) and umami (savory). I love formulas.
What is the one ingredient that you could not live without?
Brown sugar! It is an ingredient that brings flavor and harmony, while not being so extreme as normal sugar. It always sorts out my dishes. It is that sweet element that gives balance to all of my creations. For example, with pork, with paprika, cayenne or chilli, you need that balance with something sweet, whether sugar or honey, but brown sugar is more subtle.