6 Questions with Jorge Guzmán

When you close your eyes and think about the flavors of the Yucatán, what do you see, smell or taste?

First of all, habaneros. You have to know how to eat habanero to be a Yucateco. It’s just the way it is. And savory foods, heavy rich food, earthy flavors. Dishes that take a couple of days to prepare. It’s slow food. It’s legit slow food. In some ways it’s the ultimate slow food.

Your childhood shapes so much of who you are as a chef. What memories can you share?

I have a lot of memories that are tied to my family and food, and to my grandmother and her house in Mérida. And that’s kind of where it all stems from. Everyday life was different, you know, the lunch at 2pm, typically something very savory and filling—it’s not like you’re eating a sandwich, you’re having potaje or cochinita pibil or something that’s very traditional.

What are some of the misconceptions people have about food from southern Mexico and the Yucatán?

What are some of the misconceptions people have about food from southern mexico and the yucatán?

It’s hard to cook traditional Yucatecan food because it is so different than what people expect of Mexican food. There aren’t these crazy salsas like people are used to eating, like ordering tacos in Mexico City and choosing how many different salsas you want. Here it is just tortillas, black beans, cochinita and pickled red onion. These are the four ingredients that I love.

What are the dishes from the Yucatán, the ones we should all know and love but don’t?

I don’t think anybody knows about papadzules, which are hardboiled egg enchiladas with pumpkin seed sauce and chiltomate. It sounds like it’s not going to be good but it’s fucking dynamite! And then there’s pan de cazón, which is basically dogfish lasagna layered with tortillas, black beans, poached and shredded dogfish and chiltomate. It’s basically an enchilada casserole, really different and really good.

When you cook for other people, what’s usually on the menu?

Frijol con puerco. Pork, beans, rice, salsa, fresh tortillas—it’s one of my favorite dishes to cook for people.

What makes the culture of the Yucatán so special?

There’s so much influence from outside of Mexico here. There’s such heavy influence from the Lebanese, Dutch, Spanish, the Maya, especially the Maya. The Mayan culture is 10,000 years old and yet still super prevalent, and their language is still spoken.