Nopalito's co-chefs, Gonzalo Guzman and Jose Ramos, famously started off as cooks at Nopa whose food was so good owner Laurence Jossel built a restaurant around them. In part one of SFoodie's Q&A with the two chefs, Guzman and Ramos talked about the inspiration for their dishes and their decision to make everything from scratch. Here, they talk about how they work together and their plans for a second location. Tomorrow, in part three, they'll share a favorite recipe.
SFoodie: You guys are co-chefs of Nopalito. How does that work?
Gonzalo Guzman: We pretty much divide the work in two ways. Jose has been more involved in Mexican restaurants and spent time in Mexico looking for ideas. My background is all European restaurants: this is the first Mexican restaurant that I've worked in.
Jose Ramos: A lot of times I'll bring an idea in and then we work together make it happen. Because he comes from, like, fancy restaurants, he brings in different cooking techniques to get the result that we're looking for.
GG: We're not trying to change the authenticity of the dish, we're just trying to make it taste even better. Even just using better ingredients it will taste better. We're trying to make authentic Mexican dishes shine.
Do you ever refer to traditional recipes as a place to start?
JR: I look at them a lot, but most of the time we have to change the recipes because a lot of the ingredients found in Mexico are not here. At least not organic and local.
GG: We look at a recipe and talk about what can be substituted. Often Jose will make it first and then we put it on the table, taste it, and if we feel like something is wrong we do it again and again until we agree. Then we talk about how to plate it. Once we finalize the dish we put it on the line and divide it into stations to figure out how to get it to customers quickly.
Do you guys ever go out to eat Mexican food? Do you have a favorite place?
GG: I used to, but honestly I just don't like it for some reason. Since we opened I've probably only had two or three burritos but I used to have them almost every day. Now the rice tastes overcooked or I always find something. I do go to new Mexican restaurants every once in a while, but I don't go to taquerías. I don't find it interesting anymore.
JR: I still do. Mexican food is pretty much what I eat more than any other food. It's still my favorite, honestly. I like different places for different things, but I go to Taquería Vallarta on 24th for campechano tacos. It's a combination of chorizo and brisket, and the texture of the tortilla rubbed with the grease from the griddle with all the kinds of salsa-that one's really close to things I tasted in Mexico.
How are things going with your upcoming second location in the Sunset?
GG: The goal is to hopefully be open by the beginning of next year. We already have a space on 9th Avenue in the Inner Sunset.
How will the second location differ from this one?
GG: We've been talking but it's not decided yet. The big idea is to move a lot of the prep over there because we don't really have a prep cook area here: it's the size of these two small tables.
JR: With what we do here, with everything from scratch, there's just not enough space. Here we are limited, but there we will have room to experiment.
GG: We can try out things we couldn't execute here, while keeping things like the mole and the salsas consistent. I know when a lot of restaurants open a second location they tend to forget about the first location. We're going to try to not let that happen.