Every Saturday, a young Julián González Cruz would watch as his father fired up the grill to cook as much as 50-60 pounds of meat for gatherings of 20 people.
As González grew up in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, food was always center stage, from the meat, charro beans, enchiladas, guacamole and tortillas at the heart of those weekly gatherings of family and friends, to exotic delicacies on family vacations.
González, 42, is now a chef with decades of his own experience who wants to bring his love affair with food and the ingredients from his homeland to diners as the executive chef at Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ third Coachella Valley casino set to open this fall.
And don’t expect that the flavors will match exactly with common conceptions of Mexican food. González said the menu items he’s bringing to each of the property’s restaurants will be unlike the offerings available elsewhere in the Coachella Valley and guests should get ready to try something new.
“When you leave after the meal experience you’re going to be like, ‘I would never in a thousand years thought that these flavors are the traditional flavors from Mexico,’” he said.
A foodie journey
From a young age, González remembers being exposed to a wide array of food and ingredients, and not just at those big gatherings.
He said his dad would frequently take him along on business trips where they would check out the restaurant scene.
“I would order stuff that maybe as a 10-year-old you would never try,” he said.
He remembers going to a restaurant in Monterrey where his dad ordered grasshoppers and maguey worms. Though his father didn’t make him eat the grasshoppers, he did have to try the worms. The verdict? Different, but not bad.
“I liked them,” he said.
And when he wasn’t out and about with his dad, his nanny cooked up foods for him from her rustic ranch community.
“There was a lot of food that I was exposed to and different preparations that you won’t find in big cities and all those flavors have intrigued me,” González said.
Though González knew he loved food, being a chef didn’t seem like the right job path at first.
“I remember when I said I wanted to be a chef the first impression in my household was like, ‘Well if you want to make tacos I’ll just get you a cart and put you to work on the street’ because back at home the career of a chef is not something that was either known or accepted,” he said.
That all changed in 1998 when González landed an internship at the InterContinental Hotel in Mexico City the same summer that his daughter was born. He said his father-in-law, who had worked in the restaurant and hotel industry, called some connections to help arrange the internship.
González said he will never forget his first day where he had to make Caesar salads from scratch for 550 guests.
“I just looked like a lost dog,” González said with a laugh, “I’m like, ‘All right, translate: what’s a Caesar salad and how do I make it?’”
But the experience permanently changed his outlook on being a chef as a profession.
“The exposure in the InterContinental was that final push that I was missing,” he said. ” That was the key that I was missing to chase this career, basically.”
González later went on to the Florida Culinary Institute, where he received degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management and went on to work in chef positions across Mexico before a mentor called him to work in the Coachella Valley about eight years ago.
He most recently worked at The Steakhouse at Agua Caliente’s Rancho Mirage property as the chef de cuisine before taking over the larger role at the planned casino property.
A taste of Mexico
At Agua Caliente Cathedral City, González plans to make his mark on the menus at each of the restaurant’s dining options, which include full-service restaurant Café One Eleven, agave-based spirits bar Agave Caliente and another iteration of sports bar 360 Sports (there’s already a 360 Sports at the Rancho Mirage property).
Café One Eleven will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner but during the evening hours the restaurant will take on a more formal look, complete with white tablecloths and dimmed lighting. The dinner menu will be separate from the lunch menu but there will be some offerings shared across both. The restaurant will have dishes with a Central and South American flair, but also some American items, including an open face steak sandwich with blue cheese and onion rings on top.
At Agave Caliente, bartenders will mix cocktails with spirits such as mezcal, tequila and sotol (a Mexican spirit made from a plant called the Desert Spoon) and González has put together a menu of items to pair with those drinks. For example, González has come up with a chipotle-marinated seared tuna taco served in a jicama tortilla with a sauce made with avocado and hibiscus to pair with a joven — meaning young or unaged — mezcal. The taco is topped with popped amaranth seeds.
To pair with other drinks on the menu, González has a sope filled with a mixture of mushrooms, guajillo pepper and onion that’s been sautéed in olive oil and topped with microgreens and queso fresco.
At 360 Sports, the will be a menu fairly reminiscent of the offerings in Rancho Mirage, but González said he’s working on add a couple new concepts with a Latin flair to tie the offerings in with the other two outlets and provide “the sense of experimentation and fun of having not only Latin American food all day but also something that you can have a snack on whenever you’re watching a sport.”
González said the uniqueness and authenticity of the items that come from the place where his love affair with food started are part of what will make the new casino distinct.
“It’s going to be 100% made the same way that you would have it in Mexico — and I refer to Mexico as the country, not just Mexico City — and have that sense of ingredients and family,” he said. “That’s what’s going to set us a little bit apart from our sister properties.”
Source: Thanks https://www.pe.com/2020/09/23/this-chef-plans-to-bring-a-taste-of-mexico-to-new-agua-caliente-casino-cathedral-city/