AN INTERVIEW WITH CHEF RENE ORTIZ
Rene Ortiz spent years traveling the world, cultivating his skills, and learning new techniques in the kitchen. Now he comes home to take part in the the James Beard Foundation, which brings foodies face-to-face with their favorite chefs and one-of-a-kind dining opportunities. We sat down with Chef Ortiz himself to get the scoop on what goes on in his kitchen.
Rue La La: You spent some time in NYC and overseas. How has that had an impact on your cooking?
Chef Ortiz: My cooking is a fusion of everything that I’ve done, places I’ve traveled through, and the knowledge I’ve picked up from working with really, really wonderful people. My food is a different interpretation of what Mexican food is – it’s my interpretation and I think it’s a fresher approach. Some people may call it “fluffy,” and I like that word. It means quality ingredients and usually something you could get in Mexico City. It started in La Esquina, has progressed overtime, and people are actually copying what we are doing and it’s fun.
Rue La La: Would you consider yourself a trendsetter in the world of Mexican food?
Chef Ortiz: Not a trendsetter, but I am trying to set a point of difference, like you would do with French food, or like David Chang has done with his food. It started as poor man’s food, but now it’s a little nicer and better quality. It’s a different approach, a lot of technique, and hard work, which people are receptive to.
Rue La La: Tell us about your techniques.
Chef Ortiz: We cook Abuelita’s food – grandma’s food, but bring in a little more of a technical side. My background is more like a French style of cooking. Slow and low, intense flavors. I’ve always tried to throw in a punch of chili. I love chili, I love balance. There’s so much I’ve learned from so many cultures and techniques. This is my renaissance of cooking.
Rue La La: Since we’re all style lovers at Rue La La… What is your “uniform” outside the kitchen?
Chef Ortiz: I’m definitely a Vans-wearing, dark-denim, T-shirt or button-down checkered shirt kind of guy. I love bow ties and I wear extremely large glasses too.
Rue La La: What does having a green-certified restaurant really mean?
Chef Ortiz: It encompasses everything – from the different types and amounts of chemicals and the materials used to build and maintain the restaurant, to our recycling program, the providers we use, to who we buy our chicken and dairy from.
Rue La La: It sounds like it’s something that’s pretty important to you. Are your guests aware of it?
Chef Ortiz: I’m not sure the guests know. It’s important to me though, being a consumer. It’s something I fell in love with. It’s a lot of work to maintain and understand and teach our kids at the restaurant how to do this.
Rue La La: What does the James Beard Foundation represent to you?
Chef Ortiz: It’s a wonderful thing. I totally love it. It’s beautiful. It’s an amazing place that has had so many amazing chefs. We are honored and excited to be part of it. Also, we get to go back to our city after being in Austin for 15 years. It’s like the church of chefs. I get to go see the Vatican of food. It’s a great, holy place for many chefs and cooks – it’s going to be a great honor to cook for these guests. We want them to have tons of fun.
Rue La La: Any food trends you just can’t stand?
Chef Ortiz: I don’t get the “air food” bit. I think food should be consumed as it is whole. I don’t feel altering a food in any way is the right thing to do. If I’m going to have an artichoke, I want to know it’s an artichoke and I want to taste the artichoke. We are real people, cooking the food of very hard-working people – and we need to celebrate that.
Rue La La: Tell us about a killer meal you ate recently.
Chef Ortiz: It would have to be Michael Mina’s restaurant, Bourbon Steak in Scottsdale, Arizona. I had the shin of the kobe beef that was cooked 61 degrees in clarified butter, grilled over oak, and it was absolutely amazing. It was beautiful. I think that was one of my most memorable meals.
Rue La La: Where do you see yourself in 2015?
Chef Ortiz: I’d like to see it go many places. I’d love to teach kids how to cook, or open a school as a non-profit. I see this restaurant evolving, turning into completely different identities and creating food in other places, other genres, but always staying true to our values and creating different energies under the La Condesa name.
Rue La La: We hear you have your staff listen to Baby Einstein. That can’t be true – can it?
Chef Ortiz: I do it once in a while now for fun. My staff has been with me for a while, which is a good thing and I told them that they needed to re-learn the essence of cooking for a better earth and start from the beginning. I have two children and could listen to that music all day long (laughter) – today I had Reading Rainbow on.