FEATURE: Small taquería, big names – meet Rosio Sanchez
FEATURE: Who is getting top chefs from around the world come to Copenhagen to make tacos? That would be Rosio Sanchez, a woman with a mission: To bring authentic Mexican flavours to Europe and to make it available to anyone.
Paco Méndez, Shinobu Namae, Fabian von Hauske, Jorge Vallejo, Zaiyu Hasegawa, Kris Yenbamroong, Mario Espinosa. All are names of chefs from top restaurants around the world who have made their way to Copenhagen this summer. What do they have in common with chefs Lisa Lov, Matt Orlando, Lars Williams and Jonathan Tam? Well, they have all spent a day making tacos at Copenhagen market hall Torvehallerne.
Why? They are all friends of Rosio Sanchez.
She opened her taquería Hija de Sanchez in June, and people have been lining up since day one. The day I meet her is no exception, even if the lines are not nearly as long as on the opening day, when they reached all the way to the road 50 meters away, Sanchez tells me.
– The first day was fun, but it was also a disaster. People waited about an hour in line and then twenty minutes to get their food. We had too many menu options, and the lines got longer and longer. We had an idea of how we were supposed to work and what our system of tickets should be. But things never play out the way you think. I’d only been working in restaurants, never in a taquería. So how would I know?, says Sanchez.
For some, a situation like this would be stressful. But not for Sanchez. After six years as a pastry chef at Noma, and before that three years at WD-50 in New York, it takes more than a long line of taco-craving people to freak her out.
– It was stressful, yes, but definitely not as stressful as Noma! Here, I’m cooking food I’m 100 % comfortable with, that I really know. It's not going to look perfect every time but I know it's going to taste good, she explains.
In search of the perfect tortilla
Sanchez, 30, grew up in a Mexican neighborhood in Chicago. The language in her childhood home was Spanish, the food on the dinner table hearty and traditional Mexican.
– I grew up with eating tortillas every day. Within a mile from our home there was a tortilla factory; it was just very accessible. During my time in Copenhagen that’s something I’ve really missed. I did not see a lot of good Mexican places around, she says.
So two years ago, she made up her mind: If somebody should bring authentic Mexican flavours and products of good quality to Copenhagen, there really was no reason it shouldn’t be her.
– I honestly thought somebody should do it. Since I grew up with it and know what I crave, it made sense to go for it, she says.
After playing with the thought and discussing it with her boss René Redzepi and other friends for a year, she started researching products. First of all, she wanted to make the perfect tortilla.
– Finding adequate corn has been my biggest struggle. It has to have just the right amount of starch and water if you want to make a nice dough. I’ve gradually been getting to the point where I am now, where I’m satisfied with the result. But I can’t even count the amount of tests we have made with different types of corn. I’ve seen all the failures, so it's definitely true: If you want to make a tortilla that is tasty and a reminder of eating in Mexico, you have to have a special kind of Mexican corn grown in a particular climate. You may be able to do it with corn from other parts of the world, but the result will not be as good.
Today, she gets her corn from Oaxaca, and chilies are imported from Mexico as well. All other products are from Denmark, including the cheese, made from organic milk at a small dairy in Copenhagen. The search for avocados and the Mexican tomato variety tomatillo, however, have been in vain. Both are essential in traditional Mexican cooking, but for now, she will have to live without them.
– For instance, we don’t have guacamole on the menu. I have not yet been able to find a consistent supplier of avocados that are amazing, so we just can’t do it. That has been hard for me to accept. But we only started out a couple of months ago, so hopefully with time we will get to a point where we can serve guacamole. My goal, if I am to continue this, is that in ten years I have succeeded in bringing adequate tasty Mexican food to Europe, Sanchez says.
Amigos de Sanchez
Sanchez quit her job at Noma in March 2015, tested recipes during the month of April, and in May did four pop-ups in order to test them on the masses. Before opening in June, she also found time to go to Spain. There she met with Paco Méndez, who along with Albert Adriá runs the Mexican fine dining restaurant Hoja Santa and the taquería Niño Viejo in Barcelona.
– I went to speak with him, taste his products, see what his struggles were and get his advice. When I told him I was opening in a month, he offered to come and help. He said and his wife would come over and give me a hand with whatever I wanted, he said – even if it was washing the dishes! It was such a generous offer. But I told him, if he would come, he should not make my food. He should come and do his own thing. He was so into it, and then I thought: “Perhaps other chefs would be into it too?”
This is how the idea of Amigos de Sanchez (Friends of Sanchez) was born.
After returning to Copenhagen, Sanchez asked some of her chef friends in the city if they would come do a guest appearance. One of the first people she asked was her former Noma colleague Matt Orlando from Amass.
– He’s from San Diego, so of course he wanted to make tacos. He had been craving them too. So he made fish tacos, had a blast, and there was a huge line.
Lars Williams from Noma and Jonathan Tam from Relæ also came, as well as Paco Méndez, as promised. And a long line of other chefs.
– It has turned out everybody wants to do it. All these chefs are people from the industry that I deeply respect, but they are also friends. That’s why we call it “Amigos de Sanchez”, she says.
For Sanchez, having such big, international names cook in her small taquería has been somewhat overwhelming. But first and foremost, it has been fun, she says.
– Having all these people come to Copenhagen and make their version of a taco with the ingredients from their own surroundings in the world is very inspiring. But they’re also having good time, and that’s what this is all about.
On the “disastrous” opening day, René Redzepi came by and lent a helping hand when he saw how Sanchez and her team were struggling to keep up with the orders. But even if Rosio’s friends have more gastronomic accolades than most, her mission is first of all to make Hija de Sanchez a place for everybody, she says.
– It’s not a dinner that will cost you $300 and which limits the experience to those who can afford it. I’m passing things out, and people are eating it directly in front of me with their hands. I get immediate feedback, which is great. These chefs have amazing backgrounds, but anybody can come and try it – you just have to wait in line. That’s a very beautiful thing.
Story: Eva Helbæk Tram
Photo: Mikkel Jul Hvilshøj
Story originally published in White PAPER #3 2015.
UPDATE 2015-11-03: Since this story was published, Hija de Sanchez has announced that the taquería will be open until the end of December this year. The next guest chef will be none other than Mr. Redzepi, who comes to sling tacos on November 29th.
Hija de Sanchez
Hija de Sanchez, Torvehallerne, Frederiksborggade 21, København K
Hija de Sanchez in Torvehallerne closes in October 2015 and reopens in spring 2016. Rosio Sanchez is currently searching for a winter location for her taquería.
Follow @hijadesanchez on Instagram for upcoming Amigos de Sanchez events.