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A Conversation with Edgar Núñez of Sud 777, Barra Vieja, Mexico City

Edgar Nunez of Sud 777 and Barra Vieja
Edgar Nunez of Sud 777 and Barra Vieja
Geeta Bansal

Edgar Nunez is a prominent name in the wave of young avant-garde chefs sweeping through the Mexican food scene, creating modernistic food using traditional ingredients. This young chef and co owner of Sud 777 in Mexico City as well as a food truck the Barra Vieja that serves some unusual tostadas, as bright and vivacious as his cuisine, as evidenced by the colorful shades he was sporting at the MAD symposium in Copenhagen last August.

Edgar grew up in the capital city with parents who raised him in the midst of the culinary traditions of his mothers Jalisco and fathers Catalan heritage. Egdar has memories of his fathers version of beans that had olive oil and radishes while his mothers bean dish had Cotija cheese and cilantro flowers. Apparently he learned early in life to borrow from diverse cultures, and his kitchen turns out Asian-inspired Mexican cuisine in an area of the city that was not very well known for offering fine cuisine. Sud 777 was ranked #36 by Restaurant Magazine's World's 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America last September. The sleek, modern restaurant includes a chef's table that seats eight and gives you the personal attention of the chef along with food paired with local wines.

Edgar's colorful personality and creative food earned him the Distincion Bohemia two years ago. On a serious note, he has trained in some very well known kitchens all over the world and holds a degree in viticulture and distillates. Nunez was also a culinary trainee at the Maitres Cuisiniers de France in Lyon and worked briefly at the Brasserie Sud one of the five such casual restaurants by the Paul Bocuse organization in Lyon. With such a distinguished pedigree it is not surprising that he will be on the stage at Mesamerica 2014 to speak about "Mexico on Wheels," a reference to his food truck cuisine.

I asked the thirty-something culinary star some questions:

You have trained in the kitchens top restaurants and chefs like Paul Bocuse, Ferran Adria, and René Redzepi. Who has had the most influence on your work?

When I arrived in these kitchens I was just a lowly cook. In fact my training actually began with a French chef named Olivier Lombard in Mexico. He taught me everything to help me learn and master techniques that prepared me for what I later learnt in the kitchens of these master chefs. He was my mentor and though he passed away I will always be grateful to him. From the kitchens of Paul Bocuse I learnt about the elegance of food, from Ferran Adria in the El Bulli kitchen I learned the basics of innovation, and from Rene Redzepi at Noma I learnt about the beauty of nature and the elegance of simplicity.

Which kitchen was the most relaxed, and which one the most stressful?

For sure the discipline in the French kitchen was more stressful.

How do you défine your cuisine?

I don't know how to define it but I believe that I do seasonal food . I use Mexican ingredients to create Mexican cuisine of course using classic French techniques that I trained in.

Do you incorporate your viticulture back ground into your cuisine?

Of course I do, I am interested in chemistry, and the wine is pure chemistry that can change your experience or make a meal great or otherwise.

When you decided to operate a food truck despite having an established restaurant, how was it received by your fellow chefs?

I was very well supported in my decision. In Mexico right now we have a very good fellowship amongst all the chefs and we are all really good friends. (The camaraderie between the Mexican contingent of all the younger chefs who had travelled together to MAD3 last Year was very evident)

Why a food truck? Are you following a trend or is it something that your local clientele needs?

I believe that Mexico needs more quality street food and every Mexican should have the opportunity to eat well at all price points, and not just those who can dine at fancy restaurants.

Tell me your most interesting experience in the Noma Kitchen.

There was great fellowship amongst all the staff. I was probably the second Mexican cook and Latino. Whenever Rene heard Spanish spoken at a table he would send me to those tables to explain the dishes. It was a marvelous experience.

What is one thing that you learned around Ferran Adria that will always be part of your culinary life?

I was just around him for a few weeks but the great thing about Ferran is that you can learn a lot from him, not only in the El Bulli kitchen but even otherwise. He has such extraordinary talent and you can learn even by reading or watching an interview with him. I learned that you can be a great cook if you make up your mind and are willing to work to be one.

Do you collaborate with other local chefs in your city?

Of course, all the time, even all around the the country.

What is the biggest challenge in operating your own restaurant?

I have great partners who provide excellent support, but it's challenging to be constantly moving forward and be creative.

Why did you enter the food industry? Were you following a plan or did it just happen by chance?

It happened by accident. I went to a hotel in Barcelona to ask for a job, and then they put me to work in the kitchen initially washing dishes and then cooking. Within a few days I fell in love with this work and though I never had plans to be a chef, I was quickly on the way to becoming one.

Which other chefs in Mexico do you think are going to go very far? You can include yourself too!

Enrique Olvera, Guillermo Gonzalez, Jorge Vallejo, Jair Tellez, Diego Hernandez, Daniel Ovadia, and me since you said I can include my name, me.

Which restaurants did you dine at last year when you were back in Copenhagen for MAD?

I dined at the restaurants of all the chefs that I had met in the Noma kitchen and at Noma of course. I always knew that they were very talented and now they have their own restaurants like Amass, Relæ, and Bo Bech.

What is the most significant change that has happened in Mexican cuisine in the last few years?

We are proud of our food now, there is fellowship amongst us, and we know we can do more in the world with our cuisine.

Any story from your life in Lyon?

It was tough the way I learned the French language in the kitchen and very difficult initially. I had taken French language classes in Mexico, but the real life scenario was very stressful because I didn't understand anything even when they shouted at me, which was good for me! Of course I remember the great food.

Are you into the local, organic, sustainable cuisine and what is an iconic dish in your repertoire?

I do prefer to use more local than organic, and my dish is Xochimilico chinampas.

What makes you an avant-garde chef?

The constantly moving, the watching, and always trying to look forward, but never forgetting my roots and who I am.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

With more passion and love for my country and my food and hopefully knowing more chefs and places in the world.

Did you name your restaurant after Brasserie Sud?

That's funny, no it was a coincidence and actually it was one of my partners who picked the name. It's called Sud because it is in the southern part of the city.

What is your favorite cuisine?

That's a difficult question since I like all kinds of food like Mexican, Catalan, Japanese... now Scandinavian.

Favorite cities in the world?

Mexico City, Barcelona, and Tokyo .

Can I have your blue sunglasses that you were sporting at MAD?

Hehehe! (laughing) I lost them… but I can get you some similar ones!