Xavier Perez Stone is one of the hottest names in Mexican culinary scene at the moment. He started his career in one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, Biko, after which he started working on two standalone projects involving haute cuisine and the best of what Mexico has to offer in terms of taste in Axiote. Which is a lot!
How did your early beginnings in Mexico City look like?
I was surrounded by cooking ever since I could remember. In my family, my grandma used to cook and she passed this onto my mother and my father, so the whole family was always cooking. My father was a hunter and from him I learned to have a special respect for the animals that you kill to eat. Don’t get me wrong, I love vegetables, but I need to have meat. I would never be able to be a vegetarian.
I do not remember when I started cooking the first time, but it was definitely because I wanted to share some precious moments with my friends and family. For example, in my family we always organized a lot of parties. But the parties always started in the kitchen.
For example, I remember one of my grandma’s birthday parties. She started cooking and whoever arrived first went straight into the kitchen. It was the place where people were eating, drinking, talking, having fun – the party was in the kitchen. She was cooking and the people were eating, at the same time – that’s the Mexican way, that’s the life in Mexico.
Also, that’s the way I like to cook and this is the reason why we have an open kitchen here in Axiote. It’s a small restaurant, the kitchen is open, the bar is open, and it creates the atmosphere of intimacy. If you want, you can walk into the kitchen and take what you need.
How did you then decide you want to make cooking your profession?
Well, I actually got a degree in hospitality business. But while I was a trainee in Mexico City with one of my best friends, who is one of the top Mexican chefs today, Bruno Oteiza, one day I realized I want to be a chef. I was sick of business, accounts, numbers… I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to cook, and that’s what I started doing.
Now I have my own restaurant and I have to manage it and do the math again, but I still feel the best when I am in the kitchen. I love cooking because it is one way of making people happy. In Mexico we have a saying, Barriga llena, corazón contento, which means A full stomach makes for a happy heart.
Starting in Mexico City, how did you end up working in Playa del Carmen?
At first I worked in many restaurants in Mexico City. I worked with one of the best Spanish chefs in the whole world, Juan Mari Arzak, also with Martha Ortiz, and some others. And then I moved to Playa.
I moved to Playa because we started the Cocina de Autor project with Grand Velas hotel. The hotel manager came to Biko and spoke with my partners, Mikel Alonso and Bruno Oteiza, about opening a fine dining restaurant in Playa. Then they told me that if we go into this, one of us will have to move to Playa. I decided to take this opportunity and moved here with my wife and daughter.
After a couple of years, I got another opportunity to open my own restaurant, Axiote. I had to run it with the people from the hotel and they supported my involvement in both projects, so I am here now. Managing Axiote and working as an executive chef and consultant in Grand Velas.
How often do you actually cook?
(Laughs) Well, not too often. Or not as often as I would like to. I usually go into the kitchen in the mornings, maybe not every day, but I try to do it whenever I can. I am still with the guys in the kitchen – both here and in Cocina. We mostly talk about new dishes, try to design new plates, etc.
What is the conceptual difference between Axiote and Cocina de Autor?
Well, in Axiote we serve only Mexican food prepared in a traditional Mexican way. Cocina, on the other hand, is an avant-garde restaurant, with only one tasting menu, 18-20 courses paired with 8-10 wines over 3 hours. So the concept is completely different. Here we have it the Mexican way, tacos, sopes, tostadas, enchiladas… 45 minutes seating, with mezcales and beer. This is more for common people, and Cocina is fine dining.
In Cocina we make a lot of crazy things. Nowadays we are also more and more getting focused on Mexican tradition and local ingredients, and we use the contemporary techniques such as sous-vide, foams, etc. But you could not call it Mexican food. Also we cannot use Mexican names for the dishes, since the hotel has another Mexican restaurant which covers that area. So we use local produce and modern techniques to make different flavours.
Which new cooking techniques do you use in your kitchen?
Nowadays, it’s difficult to talk about new techniques since everything has already been around for several decades. Here I primarily mean about sous-vide, foams, jellification – it has been around for 15-20 years. What is new is the way that we cook, the way that we see the kitchen and how we use the ingredients. For example, we are using technology to simplify the processes and improve the taste of the food. We used to confit the pork in lard and now we do it in a plastic bag in a lower temperature and we get better results.
How do you source your recipes and ingredients?
We put a lot of effort into this, primarily into building relationships with our suppliers. We want to get to know them, how they function, what is their history, before we use their products in cooking. Also, we’re trying not to buy too much ingredients in one place because it is difficult to have wide selection of great products. We like producers that specialise and have an interesting story. It is not simple but this is how we do it. It enables us to create new mixes of flavours.
For instance, we get our fish and sea products from Ensenada in Baja California. We call them and tell them what we need and it is on the next plane to Cancun, be it tuna or seashells. Because the Caribbean sea is like aquarium, good for swimming and snorkelling. And lobsters. But only for 6 months in a year, during the lobster season.
Another example is mezcal, we get it from Oaxaca. Chocolate we get from Tabasco, a very special kind. We use local fruits and vegetables from here, Yucatan. Pork also, Yucatan is famous for excellent pork. A small black big called Cerdo pelón. It’s wonderful.
Mexico is a big country, not just geographically, but also culinary-wise. We have a lot of different ingredients, a lot of techniques, a lot of chefs, a lot of creativity and a lot of time. We have everything at our disposal to make it even greater, and we do it every day.
What are the latest trends in Mexican cuisine?
One important thing has marked the modern Mexican cuisine is unity. Nowadays, all of us are working together with a common goal – to make our food, our culture, our cuisine more representative, but also keeping our tradition in mind all times.
Pozole – a Mexican dish made with corn called cacaguacintle. It’s a stew, with pieces of pork, avocado, lettuce, radish, onion, lemon juice ,oregano… It’s just wow. We make it here in Axiote every Tuesday.