Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Jorge Guzmán shares 'what's for lunch' ahead of new restaurant

Jorge Guzman
Jorge Guzman is opening a new restaurant, Chilango Mex-Tex.
Jorge Guzman

Minnesota Now runs over the lunch hour, a time that here in the MPR News studio, we are thinking quite a lot about food.

So we figured, why not check in with the best chefs in Minnesota and ask what they’re eating for lunch Monday to get some inspiration? Jorge Guzmán is the chef at the three-star restaurant Petite León in Minneapolis and is opening a new Mex-Tex style restaurant, Chilango at the Beach Club Residences on the shore of lake Bde Maka Ska next month.

He has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Best Chef award three times. He joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about his work.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Now, you know the program runs over the lunch hour, right? That's a time that, at least here in the studio, we're thinking a lot about food because, well, we just get hungry doing the show. So we figured, why not check in with the best chefs in Minnesota and ask what they're eating for lunch today to get a little inspiration?

Jorge Guzman is the chef at the three-star restaurant Petite Leon in Minneapolis and is opening a new Tex-Mex style restaurant at the Beach Club Residences on the shore of lake Bde Maka Ska this month. He's been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Best Chef award three times. He joins us now to talk about his work. Jorge, welcome to the program. How are you?

JORGE GUZMAN: Hey, Cathy. I'm great. How are you?

CATHY WURZER: Good. So far, nothing bad has happened yet, which is good. Let's talk food, OK? Tell me about the foods that you most like to prepare and that like to eat.

JORGE GUZMAN: Well, right now, I'm not preparing any food because of how busy I am. But when I do have the time to cook, I usually find myself making one pot meal, something that can be really homey. And unfortunately this year with the weather being so nice this winter, it's almost felt like we could grill out on most occasions.

So sometimes when it is nice enough, I will actually grill out in the winter as well. And usually, I like to do like a huge cut of steak. My son loves beef, so we usually do that, and we'll do potatoes. We'll keep it pretty simple.

But if I do have time, sometimes, I do find myself making something a little bit more in what I would consider my wheelhouse, more Mexican flavors. The other day I made enchiladas suizas to kind of test the waters for my new Mex-Tex concept, Chilango.

CATHY WURZER: Tell me about Chilango, by the way. What details can you share with us about that?

JORGE GUZMAN: I can share anything. So I was actually born in Mexico City and then moved to Mérida. When you call someone a Chilango, sometimes, it's referred to as someone that lives or is from Mexico City. Sometimes, it can be an insult to somebody. Sometimes, it's not. It depends on who's saying it to you.

But since I was born there, I wanted to do Mex-Tex because I feel like in more of the northern states, you don't really see this cuisine celebrated like you do in some of the southern states. I traveled to Texas a few months ago with my wife and my business partner, and it's like every corner has a Tex-Mex spot, and they are all really, really good.

And when you come up here, I love to eat that kind of food, but it's hard to find it done in the way that you would in the South. I found a space, and the first thing that came to mind was let's do-- and I'm calling it Mex-Tex because I'm making it more Mexican forward. And if you really want to get into semantics and the history of the United States, all those southern states are pretty much technically Mexico in one way or another.

CATHY WURZER: Help me out here. What makes for a good Mex-Tex food or Tex-Mex food? When you say they do it well in the South, what does that mean?

JORGE GUZMAN: Yeah. It means that they're taking very traditional Interior Mexican cooking like guisados, which you can't find here. It's hard to find a good guisado. You might be able to find one here tucked in away in a corner. Guisados is usually like beef guisado or carne guisada, which is like-- the simplest way to put it is like a beef dish that's simmered in a really flavorful chili sauce, and it's usually served with like refried pinto beans or frijoles charros, rice, and flour tortillas or corn tortillas. And it's just a really hearty dish to kind of fill you up.

When I say Interior Mexican cooking, basically, the Interior of Mexico-- there's a lot of coastal cooking that goes on that I think a lot of people are familiar with. But there's also a lot of regions in Mexico that people are not familiar with.

And I feel like the northern states going up into New Mexico, Arizona, California, even as far as Colorado, have this type of cuisine that we don't find in our kind of Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin. It's hard to find those kind of flavors here, and I love to eat those flavors. And hopefully, with Chilango, we can start introducing some of that cuisine here.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, gosh. That sounds great. Who did you study with? Whose shoulder were you looking over? Whose food were you tasting as you grew up that got you to where you are now?

JORGE GUZMAN: I've never had a food mentor. I used to think that was the one thing missing in my career was-- you always see like when the media writes about a chef, well, they studied under so-and-so, or they came out of this person's kitchen. And I always felt like I was missing that in my career. Oh, man. I never had that.

Because I went out of culinary school, and I had so many loans to pay back that I had to take a job that helped me pay my loans down. But I was still creatively driven, and so some of the places that I worked at-- yes, they paid me well, but they didn't have a creative drive. So I started reading and tasting.

And then with the advent of social media, you can go out and kind of see a lot of what everybody's doing, and so I've kind of self-taught myself in that sense. I eat a lot. I used to eat a lot around town to see what everybody was doing. You take trips, and you go to destinations. And then coming from Mérida in the Yucatan, that was kind of my mentorship.

The women that cooked for my grandparents and my family, the Mayans that cooked those meals, those are memories that I never forget. And when I go back, those are flavors that are still prevalent every day. I would say those women were my mentors. The food coming out of that part of Mexico is really what kind of shaped my culinary palate and maybe my career in a sense of how I'm navigating it to this day.

CATHY WURZER: Do you have a favorite dish? Maybe a family recipe or something that you throw together that you just love?

JORGE GUZMAN: OK, yeah. So the thing about Yucatecan cooking is you cannot throw together. It takes three days to make something. So if you don't have a Yucatecan pantry, it takes a really long time to make something. But one dish that is pretty easy to make, it's called frijol con puerco. Simply, "beans and rice" is how it's translated.

But it's more than just that. There's a certain sauce that goes with it. It's a jitomate sauce. You take black beans and pork shoulder, and you simmer them together so that the pork turns black. And then you traditionally serve the caldo, or the broth, first, and then you serve the pork with the beans and accouterments of chopped red onions, cilantro, guacamole, avocado, tortillas, salsas.

And you kind of make this big plate of rice, beans, with all these fresh ingredients, always served with tortillas and salsa habanero. And that is one of my favorite meals to have and pretty easy to make this side of the border.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. That sounds amazing. By the way, before you go, I got to ask you because, of course, this title of this series is What's for Lunch? What are you eating today?

JORGE GUZMAN: I have not eaten yet.

[LAUGHTER]

We are doing a lot of R&D, today, though at Chilango. So hopefully, I will be eating some food that we make here. We're working on some chicken wings. We're working on a stuffed state dish. Oh, and we're working on our fajitas today, so we'll have beef, chicken, smoked mushrooms. So hopefully, we get to eat some of that stuff today.

CATHY WURZER: Good. Jorge, I wish you all the best. Thank you so very much.

JORGE GUZMAN: Thank you so much.

CATHY WURZER: It's been fun talking to Jorge Guzman. He, of course, is the chef at Petite Leon, and he's opening his new Mex-Tex restaurant at the beach club residences on the shores of lake Bde Maka Ska this month, Chilango. Thanks for listening to Minnesota Now here on MPR News.

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