In the first part of the interview Santiago Lastra explained how he became chef and left Mexico. Last year, after five years away from his home country, he received an invitation he couldn’t resist. Would he join the Noma team at their Mexican adventure?
How did it happen that Rene Redzepi invited you to join them in Mexico?
They were looking for a well travelled young Mexican chef with some Danish experience and I was really lucky that chef Oswaldo Oliva, my teacher and friend, recommended me. I had behind me a project at the Nordic food lab in Copenhagen, so all things fell into place. When Rosio Sanchez contacted me I was super excited, happy and nervous at the same time. I couldn’t believe it – it was such an honour!
What was your role at Noma Mexico?
I was the project manager for the event, in charge of everything needed for the kitchen. Initially I had to organise the research trips with Rene, Rosio and the R&D team – we visited around 12 different Mexican states, their indigenous communities, restaurants, markets, suppliers, producers, farms … I had to develop connections and close the deals which gave us access to the best ingredients in the country and of course I had to make sure that when we opened all these things arrived to our jungle restaurant daily – in a country like Mexico, this is not a very easy job.
How was your experience?
It was amazing; very stressful and demanding – I had to be on the phone 24/7. Before Noma hired me I was actually away from Mexico for almost 5 years – without even seeing my mother! Working with Rene and his team allowed me to return. In these 11 months with the Noma team I discovered and learnt more about my country than in my entire previous life.
Mexico is a wild and maybe not perfectly developed and economically successful country, but we have everything! Amazing food, fantastic natural resources and most amazing hard working people I have ever met – we just need to learn to use all this in the right way.
To be continued.