At his Aunt Lupe’s tiny cenaduria in the Mexican city of Morelia, a young chef Eugenio Alvarez would stoke the fire, fetch water for tortillas and seed chilies until his eyes stung.
He learned that people would come from across the city for a tamale made with love, would throng the kitchen and hallways for a taste of a properly spiced posole. He learned that good food – real food – takes time.
Today at Rita’s Kitchen, a grown-up Chef Alvarez turns out traditional Mexican home cooking just the way Aunt Lupe taught him.
“Nothing’s from the bag, everything’s from scratch,” he says. “Most of my recipes – my adobos, my marinades – I grew up with them.”
Handfuls of almonds, raisins, chilies and chocolate simmer into silky smooth mole. Tortillas are made by hand, just like the crisp-fried chips, pico de gallo and three kinds of salsa. Guacamole is fashioned tableside for the freshest presentation, and chickens marinate overnight for Rita’s best-selling enchiladas.
On Sundays, the adobe-style dining room becomes a neighborhood gathering place, with friends and regulars who trek across town for the farm-fresh huevos rancheros, just-made churros and, of course, those famous enchiladas sprinkled with cotija cheese straight from Mexico. “I go to every single table and most of the people I know already,” Chef Alvarez says. “It’s like a family brunch.”
And a little like Aunt Lupe’s.