Chef Hector Miguel Mendoza Becerra of Cantina Kahlo talks inspiration and a love of learning.
How did you first become involved in the culinary world?
It was not the typical story of ‘I always knew I was going to be a chef’. At first, I wanted to be a firefighter because I knew my grades in school were not good enough to get me into medicine or architecture. My parents have always been supportive and they told me that they were going to pay for my education and after I finished, I could do whatever I want. It was perfect! I told myself, I would choose any school, give my parents the diploma, then I could enlist myself to be a firefighter as soon as possible. When it was time to decide which career I should follow, I remember thinking that I liked to cook at home and, for me, it was very easy. So, I went to the only culinary school in my town to check the programme and it didn’t seem complicated at all. The first year I still had in mind the firefighter job, but then I started to like the atmosphere in the kitchen. When I got my first chance to be ‘on stage’, that’s when everything changed! I was hooked by the lifestyle of the cooks, this feeling of being invulnerable because you’re working under pressure, while having a bunch of cuts and burns all over your arms. There was also camaraderie. So, here I am 12 years later, working at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain and enjoying my job as I did in those first years.
From whom would you say you learnt the most along your journey?
I’ve always considered Jorge Vallejo, from Quintonil (Mexico City), as my mentor. I got the chance to start at that restaurant when they were about to celebrate their first anniversary and left five years later when we were positioned as the 11th best restaurant in the world according to Pellegrino! Those were years of constant learning, trial and error, but I had a lot of freedom from his part. He gave me the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. I believe that your formative years as a cook are extremely important. He provided guidance on my professional life but also on my personal life. I had the chance to travel around the globe with him and cook in the kitchens of very important chefs.
What do you like to do when you are not in the kitchen?
I consider myself a very curious person and I like to learn new things all the time. Recently, I took a pottery lesson and I got hooked! I want to buy my own spinning wheel to start crafting my own vessels. A new discovery for me, maybe since the pandemic started, is podcasts. I find them extremely interesting, rich and full of information
What is your signature dish? How was it developed and why do guests love it so much?
More than a signature dish, I would encourage people to come and try our Mole; it changes constantly because on top of the 30+ ingredients that we put on it, we are also adding different types of fruit, seeds, nuts and spices depending on the day and also depending on the approach that we want to take. When Mexican people come and ask if we have mole, they ask us what kind of mole it is, we say ‘Cantina Kahlo style’ and it makes people wonder. We mix the best ingredients of some of the hundred moles that we have in Mexico and put them together here in Bahrain. Mole is very special for us here because it makes us feel at home, and it’s a celebratory dish, so we are just constantly trying to get people to try it and hope that they are going to enjoy it and love it as much as we Mexicans do.✤