fD Interview

Roberto Santibañez, Roberto Santibañez restaurants, rosa mexicano
Photo Credit: Andrew Grant

fD Interview: Roberto Santibañez

October 31, 2008
by Ulysses Garcia
FindingDulcinea offers interviews with intriguing people on the cutting edge of business, the arts, technology and journalism. This week, we talk with Roberto Santibañez, critically acclaimed chef, cookbook author and restaurateur who specializes in authentic, Mexican cuisine.

Roberto Santibañez trained at the Cordon Bleu in France before returning to his roots in Mexico. His unique mix of traditional Mexican dishes and French ingredients and techniques has garnered him critical acclaim for his cooking. In addition to opening a variety of restaurants in Mexico and the U.S. (including the famous Rosa Mexicano restaurant chain), Santibañez is helping to create the menu for Carlos Santana’s restaurant, “Maria Maria.” Santibañez published a cookbook called “Rosa’s New Mexican Table” in 2007 and plans to launch several new restaurants in New York this year.
fD: When did your passion for cooking begin and who inspired you?

RS: I was born and raised in a family of great cooks that lived their lives for the most part in the kitchens of our family homes. My mother, my aunts and my grandmother were all important influences in my development as a cook.

fD: Tell us about “Rosa’s New Mexican Table”; and are you currently working on another book?

RS: “Rosa’s” is pretty much about the foods of the restaurants although it has a lot of valuable information about the history of foods and their geographical provenance.

My next book has a very particular vision about the sauce making in Mexico and discusses how even incredibly complex, regional and diverse foods share many ingredients and techniques and can be viewed in a more comprehensive way. That is where I got the title “Mastering the Art of Mexican Cooking.”
fD: What is your favorite dish to cook?

RS: I don’t have a favorite dish but what I like to cook more then anything else are sauces, moles, salsas and pipianes (all of them are sauces that accompany other things). I believe this makes me a “saucier”!

fD: What do you consider when creating a new recipe or menu?

RS: If a product is for retail, I think about my client’s “personality” or the characteristics of the brand, what market segment is it for and what the price point is. If it is a recipe or a menu for a restaurant, I consider the restaurant concept and price point, where it is geographically, and what are the demographics of the area, as well as the availability of ingredients.  

fD: How important was it for you to train at a serious cooking school? What were the major lessons you learned there?

RS: It was very important. Going to a French old-fashioned school was like being taught to write by the nuns in the last century: either you developed beautiful, perfectly readable handwriting, or you got hit by a ruler! We learned the hard way, and I think that is the best way! Learning how to make Italian meringue by hand with a heavy whisk in one hand and a heavier cooper bowl in the other, and having to get a classmate help pour the dangerously hot syrup while you frantically whisked the egg whites! Those are fun recollections some are painful memories but all very rewarding now! Now with the wonderful technology (my KitchenAid), life is beautiful!
fD: What do you make for yourself when you get home at the end of a long day?

RS: A toasty quesadilla made with some good manchego cheese, a small salad and a glass of wine, like an easy-to-drink pinot noir.

fD: What are some projects that you are involved with now?

RS: Now, I am creating the food for “Maria Maria” restaurants [Carlos Santana’s venture]; opening “Revolución,” a fabulous restaurant in the new and sophisticated Terminal 5 at JFK Airport; opening Café Frida Restaurant on Tenth Ave. with my partner Cristina, and writing “Mastering the Art of Mexican Cooking.” I can’t disclose the name yet, but I am creating a new concept for a high-end Mexican restaurant in midtown Manhattan.

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