|« Cooking a Better School Lunch||Culinary Gender Inequality IS a Media Concern »|
Event Wed Nov 06 2013
Like St. Patty's Day and Oktoberfest, Dia de los Muertos is one of those international holidays Americans love celebrating as anything legitimizing the dissolute consumption of alcohol merits serious observance. But I celebrate Dia de los Muertos because me encanta todo de México and because I hail from Texas, the best country in the entire world. This year, I spent Dia de los Muertos shadowing Yo Soy!, an underground supper club founded by Mikey Corona and Brian Riggenbach.
A fellow Texan from Corpus Christi, Mikey is the "planner and organizer" of Yo Soy!, with more than 20 years working as front of the house in Chicago and Houston restaurants. Brian's the chef, with as much skill in the kitchen as in the art studio.
Their Dia de los Muertos menu placed a modern twist on traditional foods typically served during this holiday:
• Croquetas de pollo, paprika aioli & pickled red onion
• Roasted calabaza salad, shaved pear, roasted Brussels sprouts, midnight moon
• Celery root & apple soup, coconut, leeks, pan de muerto croutons (My favorite dish of the evening. Topped with crunchy leeks and bread crumbs, this soup embodied the essence of fall perfectly.)
• Braised pork in mole rojo, corn tortillas pave, creamy poblano
• Gingerbread empanada, spiced pilloncio, poached apples
Any dinner service, whether in an underground or two-star joint, demands physical adroitness and strong attention to detail. Timing the courses, ensuring the food is warm, entertaining the guests, and keeping the wine glasses full requires constant movement and careful organization. Though tension ran high during the beginning of service, the kitchen quickly mellowed out after a few bottles of wine and beer emptied and peals of laughter echoed from the dining space. While I snapped pictures and helped myself to leftover croquetas, I chatted with Brian and Mikey:
Do you consider Yo Soy! an underground "gay" supper club?
Although we have a large gay following, and are obviously in a relationship, we don't want to exclude anyone from enjoying our suppers. We are open to everyone to come and enjoy the YoSoy experience.
What does "inspired Mexican cuisine" mean?
Inspired Mexican means that we use the flavors of Mexico as a base, and apply seasonal and local ingredients to the mix, with a range of new and old techniques.
Where do you see Yo Soy! two years from now?
Hopefully in two years we will be very close to opening a place of our own. We would like to open a brick and mortar restaurant, but something casual and comfortable, if we get any accolades for that then so be it, but our main goal is to produce high quality and delicious food.
So Mikey is front of the house and Brian is the chef. How did that come about? Mikey, do you ever cook?
This was a natural outpouring of each of our strengths, Mikey does cook, but more rustically and more for the two of us at home.
What's one misconception people have about Mexican cuisine?
The lack of importance placed on regionally specific foods that is very important in Mexican cuisine.
Best dinner story? Coolest guest/event you've had?
There are so many -- we have met so many great people and used some really unique spaces across the city. We have been doing a lot of collaborations lately and that's really exciting. We recently did an event with Maneet Chauhan from the Food Network and that was an awesome night!
Both of you are Southern transplants--how did you end up in the Midwest and how has your background influenced you?
We both moved for art school. Mikey went to Colombia, and Brian went to SAIC [The School of the Art Institute of Chicago]. There is a gentility and sort of sense of casual elegance that I think we both brought with us, and definitely Mikey's love of Tex-Mex cuisine!
What do you guys eat at home?
Everything and nothing. We work a lot, so we order in a lot: Thai, Mexican, sandwiches, pizza.
Brian, you're an artist by training -- do you still paint and is it something you want to pursue full time?
I haven't painted in a while; I'm too busy pursuing Yo Soy! It would be nice to pick it up again, but probably not full time. It's a whole other commitment.
What's the key to a lasting relationship, both personally and business-wise?
Trust, and patience, and wine.
What's your most despised food trend? Your favorite?
Gluten intolerance. Spicy food is becoming more mainstream, which is exciting, America is waking up!
Brian, you told me one can earn six digits as front of the house. Is this true!?
At certain high end restaurants, the pay scale can be very lucrative, yes.
For diners, the exclusivity and mysteriousness of underground dinners make them particularly appealing, and it always feels good to support budding chefs and restaurateurs. For the latter half, underground dinners are insightful preludes to running a full-scale restaurant, in terms of both menu creation and operational logistics. Do guests enjoy our food? How does the venue play into their restaurant experience? Does the staff get along?
For Yo Soy!, I foresee positive outcomes, and it's not just because they produce elegant and flavorful dishes. Like all effective organizations, the success of good restaurant depends on the fluid interactions between its people, and Brian and Mikey have an extraordinary partnership. Even during hectic moments, they calmed and encouraged one another, even sneaking in a few kisses between courses. Remove the romance, and they still function exceptionally well together. Witnessing that kind of respect and passion was a perfect ending to my Dia de los Muertos.