ALEX RAIJ

By SPECIWOMEN Illustration VISNJA MIHATOV

"It is possible to be "un-mentored" and still be exceptional"

 ©Visnja Mihatov

©Visnja Mihatov

Who are you? 

I'm a New York chef specializing in Spanish cuisines. With my husband I own Txikito a Basque restaurant, La Vara a Michelin starred Spanish restaurant focusing on the Moorish and Jewish legacy in the cuisines of Spain and El Quinto Pino, NYC most authentic multi-regional tapas bar. We also own Tekoá a restaurant and all day cafe dedicated to home cooked meals and pastries. Tekoá is not Spanish. I'm the mother of two children and I conduct my life bilingually and deliciously cross culturally.

Why food?

Because it connects and brings understanding to everything, it's essential, sensual and a tangible way to create community, and a feeling of belonging and love. It expresses private ideas publicly.

How did you get into cooking?

My mother was an exceptionally cook but more importantly my parents valued food, and took us to ethnic restaurants where I developed a broad vocabulary and palate. My curiosity starts there. I was that late bloomer who never left that first deli job that everyone gives up for an internship in something more valued.

Your top three culinary influences?

Books, all of them. Travel. And conversely lack of travel so I have to travel in my own head to unknown places with the help of books. Spain of course but not just the landscape and the food but the culture(s) and way of life.

What are your favorite go-to dishes to prepare for any occasion?

One pot modular dinners like cocido, and bolito misto...

How is your food art?

Because our dishes all have flare and private ideas that may or may not be conveyed in obvious ways and can mean different things to the people who come in contact with it.

We cook and share ideas in many levels. Execution is everything but the ideas behind and undeniably delicious dish are always evident to all and I like it that way. I have a private relationship with my medium that is mine only...

And while I like to share and find approval in it. I also like the process and act of cooking from my brain and my hands.

 ©Miguel Herrera

©Miguel Herrera

Being a woman in a patriarchal society is always rough. What has being a female chef taught you about yourself?

That it is possible to be "un-mentored" and still be exceptional. That false modesty expressed in public by male chefs is not the same as real modesty. It's not even honest it's just a way for them to not be held to a higher standard. 

Three Instagram/Food Blogs that you follow.

Cannelle and Vanille

Anna Sortun

Simone Shubuck 

Skeeternyc

The Southern Foodways alliance

For us on a college student budget, can you give me a Mon-Fri menu that won’t break one’s wallet?

Monday: Rice, with soft cooked eggs, black beans, avocado, salsa (make a bunch)

 Rebecca Flint-Marx

Rebecca Flint-Marx

Tuesday: stir fried rice from the day before with spouted lentils, chorizo or jamon Serrano, scallions and any thing going bad in your fridge with roasted chicken thighs cooked with white wine or dry vermouth garlic and olive oil

Wednesday: one sided pork chop, with watercress salad

Thursday: Lamb meatballs with mint yogurt and dill and watercress salad 

Friday: Cavatelli with quick canned Spanish bonito and grated tomato sauce, melt and anchovy in there.

 If you could open a restaurant in any city, where would it be, why, and what would you serve?

Seattle or Madison Wisconsin. I would serve my friends who I miss terribly since leaving their 20 years ago. Spain would always creep in but I'd love to do an Argentine restaurant or Pan latin place...My background is Argentine, it's my soul.

Food that is a combination of Spanish, Italian, Eastern European and indigenous Latin America suits me or rather formed me.

 

@alexraij