WildTale executive chef Francisco Higareda is bringing a taste of his native Mexico to this year’s Dine Out Vancouver Festival—and he’s excited about broadening local diners’ understanding of authentic Mexican cuisine.
“I love Mexican food,” says Higareda, who hails from Veracruz. “I think here in Vancouver a lot of people are more attached to Tex Mex stuff, which is not proper Mexican cuisine.
“It’s not lettuce and sour cream on the side of a burrito,” he says in an interview at the Yaletown restaurant. “We use corn, chilies, and beans, but we have a lot of other things in Mexican cuisine. That’s what I want to show. I want people to try a lot of different flavours.”
As part of Dine Out’s World Chef Exchange, Higareda will collaborate on a six-course meal with Monterrey chef Guillermo González Beristáin at WildTale on January 30.
Higareda grew up in a household that loved food and ate well. His mom, who’s from Bilbao, Spain, and his father, who’s from Guadalajara, were both terrific cooks; ceviche, spicy prawns, and tostadas were regular dishes on the family dinner table. He trained at Ambrosía Centro Culinario in Mexico City before earning a diploma in High Cuisine & Gastronomic Management at Mariano Moreno Institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
From there, he worked at Michelin-star restaurants in Spain and France. “I learned how to be smart and clean,” Higareda says of his Michelin experiences. “It’s pretty hard-core everything. Everything is careful. Recipes you can learn anywhere. It was more about being sharp, everything being perfect, how to be smart and use common sense—that’s a big thing, common sense. Sometimes it’s not that common in the kitchen.”
An avid mountain biker, Higareda ran his own restaurant in Chihuahua before moving to Vancouver in 2016, first to work at the Flying Pig and later taking the helm at WildTale.
Upon learning of World Chef Exchange—in which local restaurants host visiting culinary talents from around the globe—Higareda thought of Beristáin’s immediately. The latter chef has his own winery (Mariatinto) and his own line of dark beer (Cerveza Bocanegra). He also heads Grupo Pangea, which consists of 10 restaurants in Monterrey; the original, Pangea, has been on the 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America list for the last several years.
“He’s a massive chef in Mexico,” Higareda says. “People call him the king Midas of Mexican cuisine, because every single restaurant he touches becomes gold. He’s an awesome chef but he’s not chasing stars; he’s not in it to be famous. He’s a super humble person and I admire him a lot.”
The two are creating a six-course Mexican tasting menu for their January 30 dinner, which will include mezcal, tequila, and wine pairings. One dish Higareda plans on featuring is white mole.
“I want to have a mole because it’s important for me,” Higareda says. “For festivities in my country, we always eat mole.
“We have more than 15 moles around the country,” he explains. “Oaxaca has seven different [regional] types. Traditional mole, mole poblano, is with turkey or chicken. Mole verde is with pork. Mole negro is with beef, turkey, or duck. I love white mole. It’s a little bit spicy, sweet, and I love it with fish or octopus.”
The chefs are still finalizing details, but expect the kind of dishes Higareda grew up eating paired with mezcal, tequila, and wine (possibly, some of Beristáin’s wines from Mexico).
“We’re pulling traditional recipes and will add more fine-dining accents,” Higareda says. “I like simple flavours. I’ve done super modern cuisine in Europe—molecular cuisine—but I don’t enjoy it. I’m a traditional cook, without the foams and smoke.
"I love food, and I love people," he adds. "I love serving people. When somebody has my food and they love it: that makes me super happy. You can't buy that."
Pick up the January 8 issue of the Georgia Straight for more coverage of World Chef Exchange and Dine Out Vancouver. Tickets and info are at Dine Out's website.