Carlos Gaytan
Chef Carlos Gaytan discusses favorite dishes, Mexican roots, and holiday tips in this exclusive interview with Latin Times. Courtesy of Carlos Gaytan

Restaurant owner and “Top Chef” contestant Carlos Gaytan arrived in Chicago in early 1991 and quickly worked his way up from pantry cook to line cook at Sheraton North Shore Hotel. After discovering his creative ability to carve on ice, fruit and vegetables, the Mexican Chef began moving on up in the culinary industry.

After working in the best private club in the nation, the Union League Club of Chicago, and having the chance to cook alongside renowned French Chef Dominique Tougne, Gaytan finally opened his own restaurant, Mexique, where he combines French cooking techniques and ingredients to traditional Mexican cuisine.

Chef Carlos cleared up his super busy schedule to talk to Latin Times and shared his favorites dishes, holiday tips, Mexican roots and his feelings on being Latino.

Latin Times: What is your favorite dish to make?

Chef Carlos Gaytan: I enjoy making dishes with braised meat, specifically braised beef, because it really adds a distinct flavor and is a quick and simple way to tenderize the meat.

LT: Did you ever reinvent any family recipes?

CCG: Yes, I have reinvented several family recipes but one of my most recent creations is enchiladas verdes with lasagna strips. My son loves pasta so this recipe was the perfect blend of his favorite food and a dish that we frequently make at home. It’s a great way to impress my kids.

LT: When did you know you wanted to make this for a living?

CCG: I grew up helping my mother in the kitchen and eventually worked with her in our food stand. Having been exposed to the kitchen at a very young age really inspired me and made me curious about different cuisines. You can say working with my mom really sparked my interest in food and the culinary industry.

LT: Where do you get inspiration to make new dishes?

CCG: I’m inspired by a lot of things, specifically my culture. Being Mexican, you’re exposed to a variety of different foods and there’s always room to learn different techniques and try something new. Whenever I need a boost of creativity, I take a stroll down my local market and examine various ingredients, particularly ones I don’t use very frequently. I also take a few pointers from my peers and browse to get pasta inspiration so I can continue to create pasta dishes with a Latin spin for my family.

LT: What’s your favorite holiday recipe and why?

CCG: My favorite holiday recipe is hands down my mother’s stuffed pork because we only have it once a year and the flavors are incredible. It’s the perfect dish!

LT: Do you have any cooking tips for this holiday season?

CCG: The holidays are a busy time of year so I suggest making meals that are easy, take little time to prepare, and feed large groups of people. A lasagna is a great option because it checks off all of these boxes but it also transports well if you need to take it over to your tia or abuelita’s house. However, if you’re making something more complex like pork, it’s good to let it soak for a day because it makes the meat so moist and tender.

LT: Would you participate in another reality show if asked? And which one?

CCG: Definitely! Being on Top Chef was an awesome experience. If I had the opportunity to participate in another show it would be Iron Chef.

LT: What would you say to young people out there who share your passion?

CCG: Nothing is impossible and it’s important to focus and never give up. If cooking is your passion, practice making dishes that are outside of your comfort zone, purchase different ingredients to get a better understanding of different flavors and textures and overall, just be open to learning.

LT: What does being Latino mean to you and what Latino traditions do you keep in your life and in your cooking?

CCG: Being Latino is all about passion and love. I make sure to maintain the tradition of sitting around the table with family, sharing the best dishes, and simply talking about our daily lives. It’s the little things that make it all worth it.

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