“At a young age I gravitated toward the kitchen. My mom would let me stir eggs, and at 12 I started learning how to make the dish we serve at my restaurant. Mexican culture is very rooted in food.”
Food was an important component of Zaragoza’s life long before he stepped foot in the restaurant.
“I’m young, but I’m a vet,” said Jonathan Zaragoza of his career in the culinary industry.
Zaragoza started cooking professionally at the age of 18 when he and his family opened Birrieria Zaragoza to make their trademark dish – birria, or oven-roasted goat – into a business.
“Food is a cornerstone in culture, and our food is hugely influenced by my Mexican heritage. My grandmothers and mom were amazing cooks, and they made it a point to sit down as a family on Sunday to eat,” said Zaragoza.
Zaragoza minded Birrieria Zaragoza while his parents worked their full-time day jobs. After two years with the family business, Zaragoza decided to leave to expand his culinary horizons. He was executive chef at Masa Azul at age 23, he helped open various concept restaurants, and he even held culinary positions in Dubai.
“All of this was my education – I dropped out of culinary school twice,” said Zaragoza.
Three years ago, after eight years of outside culinary experiences, Zaragoza returned to Birrieria Zaragoza to help carry on his family tradition. Soon after, Zaragoza’s success in and out of Birrieria Zaragoza led him to be named a 2018 Star Chef, and take home the coveted prize of a new red Vitamix machine.
He attributes much of his success at Birrieria Zaragoza – and beyond – to having the right equipment, including his Vitamix machine. While traditional Mexican sauces may call for a mortar and pestle, using a Vitamix blender has improved Birrieria Zaragoza’s consistency, efficiency and bottom line.
“Vitamix and Mexican food go hand in hand. As a business owner, we have to make money at this. You learn things to make your job easier, and Vitamix is an essential part of our business,” said Zaragoza. “I couldn’t see us operating without one in a way that speaks to the Mexican spirit.”
Birrieria Zaragoza solely serves birria, and their cuisine relies heavily on sauces. The restaurant uses three different sauces: mole rojo, a hot sauce made with arbol chile, and consommé.
All of the sauces get blended in the Vitamix Vita-Prep® 3.
“It’s humbling doing the same dish every day; there’s a certain amount of honor behind it,” explained Zaragoza. “I can’t fall asleep at the wheel and need to be present. Vitamix helps with blemishes – if human error is present, I know Vitamix is my consistent, my control of my experiment. It makes me look good.”
With the ability to execute a perfect sauce every time, Zaragoza is also able to limit what’s wasted, allowing him to practice more sustainably – one of the values he believes has contributed to his success in the culinary industry.
“As a chef, being sustainable goes hand in hand with what we do – farm to table is the norm. If we do well, farmers do well, and we try to have this at the forefront of our brains. We work with local farmers and honor the animals used with thoughtfulness every step of the way.”
To keep his kitchen sustainable and make the most of his ingredients, Zaragoza considers cross-utilization, uses ingredients to full potential, ferments what he can and uses the whole animal, all of which allow him to control food cost, quality and waste.
“If you put work into your craft every day, you slowly see results,” said Zaragoza. “Work hard, work smart, have patience with yourself and others, and be kind to yourself. Without people there is no food – you gotta be nice to people. Being a chef is an honorable profession.”
Carolina Rodriguez @linacaro on photo credit.