Elena Reygadas is the owner and head chef of Mexico City's Rosetta, a restaurant so reflective of her personal taste that it's like coming to her home. Set in a large porfiriano mansion in the leafy neighborhood of Roma Norte, diners are spread among its rooms and courtyard, decorated with plants and whimsically painted with birds and flowers. Reygadas, who was named the best female chef in Latin America in 2014, invites you to a space she has lovingly curated, with the goal of making you "feel well in every sense."
Rosetta is an Italian restaurant with Mexican elements. Or perhaps it's a Mexican restaurant with Italian elements. The bread you're served may be focaccia or pan de pulque. Your tagliatelle may be flecked with chile de arbol, your dessert bursting with cactus fruit and cacao or infused with olive oil. Reygadas's voice speaks so clearly through her food that while the flavor combinations may be unexpected, they harmonize as if they've been served together for centuries.
Reygadas has built a small empire, with four restaurants and a baking business that distributes her much-admired bread and pastries through Mexico City. As confidently as she has paired Italian and Mexican cuisine, Reygadas has rebuffed pressure to remake her restaurant in a manner that might elevate her to a still-higher level of fame.
I spoke to Reygadas from a perch above Rosetta's kitchen.
Laura Tillman: When did you realize that you wanted a career as a chef?
Elena Reygadas: I knew I wanted to go to university, and I studied literature. I saw cooking more as a way of life and something I could do even if I had another career. I was very interested in nutrition, and I always cooked for friends and at home. I never stopped cooking. When I was finishing my degree, my brother, he's a filmmaker, his first film he asked me to come and do the catering. That was the first time I cooked with responsibility, with real responsibility. I thought, I think this is what I want to do, I want to cook, but I want to read all my life. I want to be doing this. I want to cook for others, I want to have the responsibility of organizing a meal.
LT: It seems very different to cook for friends as opposed to doing it as a career. What was it about cooking with responsibility that made you realize you actually wanted to do this as your work?
ER: As you said, it's really different that you like to cook, and then that cooking will become your way of living. I never thought, Yes, I like to cook, but it's too much work, or Restaurant life is really difficult. I just felt like, I love the adrenaline; I love the teamwork. And I remember at that point I thought, I love to cook and this is what I want to do, because to read, for me, is something personal and intimate. Of course you can share a book with someone, but when you cook you share that with everybody instantly on every level.
LT: When you were working in London at Locando Locatelli, you decided to return to Mexico City to raise your daughter. Was that a hard decision to make?
ER: It was a really hard decision to make. When I got pregnant, it was a surprise for me. I was really feeling that having a daughter was going to interfere with my career and my cooking, which I loved. I was confused about how I was going to deal, between my daughter and family and my passion. I loved London, I was really happy to live there, but I felt that if I stayed there it was going to be really difficult to continue with my career.