Embracing Fall Flavors: Checking in with Rosa Mexicano Chef David Suarez

Yesterday, I posted two delicious recipes from the Fall Harvest Dinner menu that will be served up at Rosa Mexicano Boston. This very cool event is rapidly approaching (Less than a week away! Did you get your tickets yet?), and there’s no better way to get a closer look at the event than by having a conversation with the Culinary Director for Rosa Mexicano, Chef David Suarez. During my chat with Chef Suarez we discuss where his love of food came from, how fall flavors work with Mexican cuisine, and a quick story about a lesson learned as a child.

David Suarez – Photo by Rebecca McAlpin

Foodie Journal: When did you realize that you had enough love and passion for food that you wanted to make a career out of it?
David Suarez: While growing up both of my parents were great cooks. My mother, more home style food but my Father would take chances and experiment. He actually had a catering company for a little while. I remember, when I was 8 years old I helped deliver bread for a Cuban bakery in Hartford, Connecticut. I remember smelling the bread baking and still, to this day, I love the smell of yeast. My first recollection of cooking was making blueberry pies with whole wheat crusts from fresh-picked blueberries that we picked on Block Island. For me, the choice to cook was easy. But, to be honest with you, I also got into the business because I knew I would never go hungry and always have a job.

People need to eat, you know…

FJ: How did you get your start in the business?
DS: My first job cooking was given to me by Susana Trilling at a place called Bon Temps Rouler in the financial district in Manhattan. My mother had a friend who worked with her and, when she knew of my desire to become a cook, she asked him and he spoke with Susana and she gave me a chance. One of the first things I did in the kitchen was cooking tamales. There were about 500 of them for a big offsite event that we were doing. I burned about 200 of them. Susana did not get angry, she took this as an opportunity to teach me something. She said “Always put a coin in the bottom of the pan while steaming anything. That way, when the water is running out, the coin will rattle and you can hear it and add more water.”

FJ: A number of the Rosa Mexicano restaurants are holding these Fall Harvest Dinners. What is different about the menu for the Fall Harvest Dinner that people might not typically find on the regular Rosa Mexicano Boston menu?
DS: Razor clams are something that we’re not always serving at Rosa Mexicano, but the dish is amazing (a ceviche of razor clams, bay scallops, grapefruit, mint, chili and ginger). We’ve been partnering with locals farms like Sky Vegetables and Sparrow Arc Farm (one of my favorites), and this Fall Harvest Dinner is really a way to showcase some of these awesome local ingredients in a special way. The braised duck legs with Brussels sprouts, autumn root vegetables and Serrano sage butter is also going to be killer!

FJ: Is there a challenge at all in trying to meld Mexican cooking with New England flavors?
DS: Not really. Sometimes things just work really well together. Last year, we did a menu based on a clam bake. So one of the items was a take on frijoles con Puerco, which is a typical Mexican dish. And, since it was a “clambake” I wanted to infuse a taste of New England so I did a take on Boston baked beans. Using black eyed peas, I developed a spicy Boston baked bean dish with pork belly and clams. It was a little sweet with some heat and rich, deep combination of New England and Mexico. It was very satisfying to be able to pull that off. The focus on local ingredients is an important component of Rosa Mexicano’s new menu concept in an effort to create sustainable and quality food. Just the street food stalls all over Mexico, the freshest seasonal ingredients are essential for producing great authentic Mexican food.

FJ: What’s your favorite item on the upcoming Fall Harvest Dinner menu?
DS: Actually it is the mushroom salad. I just love that combination of flavors. Very Autumn… It is my favorite time of year for food because the food is beginning to get deeper and richer. Time to start braising a little and roasting vegetables. Wild mushrooms, with the rain abundant are great. And I love hazelnut. Probably my favorite. A little salty chorizo and it brings it all together.

FJ: So it’s cool moments like this dinner that can sometimes lead to people having food memories or experiences that they’ll look back on down the road. Do you have a particular food memory that you think back on fondly that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
DS: It’s funny, I think I mentioned that in the first question. But I will share another that, while it was not a “fine dining” experience, but just an anecdote again from my childhood.

When my brother and I were young, I mean I was probably 9 or 10. We were both very picky eaters. I mean I did not like anything that had to do with vegetables and my father’s food was a little too sophisticated for us. So of course, I didn’t eat much while staying with him. So he decided to let my brother and I cook dinner one night. He bought us our first cookbook. The Betty Crocker cookbook for kids. Told us to pick something out and make it for dinner.

So we chose something we thought we would like. Tuna Melts. Well, we made our tuna melts and enjoyed them very much. But my father and stepmother did not eat. They pushed their plates away and said they didn’t like it. I did not learn until years later that they set us up. They purposely pushed their plates away to teach my brother and me a lesson. But we were obviously too young to realize it then.

Tickets for the Rosa Mexicano Boston Fall Harvest Dinner are available for pre-purchase at www.rosamexicano.com for $45/person (plus tax and gratuity), which includes 4-course meal (cocktails purchased separately)

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