Our Interview with Meso Maya's Nico Sanchez, Part 1: Honing His Craft in Small-Town Mexico

Categories: Interviews

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Mesa Maya tacos.
When Mike Kearns, owner of El Fenix, set about opening an authentic, regional Mexican food restaurant in Dallas, he tapped Nico Sanchez, who'd spent his youth working and traveling throughout Mexico and learning about regional foods. The resulting restaurant, Meso Maya, has been open for just over a month but is getting pretty positive buzz by those who have stopped in.

In part of our ongoing interview series with local chefs, Thee-Course Meal, we talked to Sanchez about his path to the corner of Preston and Forest. Tomorrow, look for more from Sanchez, including his take on Dallas' food scene.

What do you remember about the food you ate as a child?
I grew up in a small town in Mexico called Guanajuato. There were no restaurants in town and so my mom cooked all the time from basic ingredients like corn and beans. That's all we had.

When did you first learn to cook?
My father died when I was very young, so when I was 11 I had to get a job to help my family. I worked at a local bakery where we made everything from scratch. We used a huge wood-burning brick stove that could bake 14 loaves at a time. It was very unique and, now that I think about it, cooking different breads and pastries in that oven was really an art. Then the owner left for America and I ran it myself for a while. But, when I was 14 I had to go to Mexico City for a better job.

When you moved to Mexico City, how did your love for food grow?
At first I got another job at a bakery, and then with a company where I made deliveries all over the country, so I got to see all of the regional foods. For me, that was really exciting. I started noticing all the diversity in the foods. Whatever town we were in we'd pull to the side of the road and try whatever they had.

When did you come to Dallas?
All of my family was here in the states by the time I was 19, so I came to visit -- it was too cold, though, and I didn't like it. But, my family wanted me to stay and then I saw an old friend of mine from back home and he got me a job at Sambuca in Deep Ellum washing dishes. That was 15 years ago.

How did your job progress into becoming a chef?
Well, I didn't speak English, but I learned and after a few months I started talking to the chef some. I worked a lot and I worked hard. Then I got on with the Consilient restaurants (Hibiscus, The Porch) and eventually I became the chef at Cuba Libre.

And now you're the chef at a new restaurant, Meso Maya, with a menu you've created. Not bad, huh?
Well, I always worked really hard. And everything happens for a reason. I learned so much about the food in Mexico all those years ago. I had no idea it would have such an impact on my career now.

What place or person helped you the most in your career?
Well, Consilient gave me a lot of opportunity, but I also worked really hard for them. So, it worked both ways. But, I would say Nick Badovinus at Neighborhood Services was the one who taught me the most.

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36 comments
PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Was he pissed when the Mavericks traded Eduardo Najara?

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I wonder what Nico thinks of the NFL's mexican heritage month and futbol americano? Do he and his friends call them the Cowboys or Los Cowboys? Do he and his friends consider Romo a real mexican?

Lauren DD
Lauren DD

I like to have mine motorboated

Storm_71
Storm_71

I like how you pharsed the question "When did you come to Dallas". That could be kind of a tricky subject.

Chuck G.
Chuck G.

Lauren, did you ask him what he was going to do next like hit the range or get something to eat?

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Is this a fusion of chinese and mescan?White rice? Come on, everyone knows that Chipotle brought the mexican recipes of Guanajuato to us first. Is Guanajuato where bat feces come from?

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Why didn't you ask him if he liked his gig, if he liked his gig, being the #1 top chef, the #1 chef. Is that in part 2?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

ese plato se ve delicioso.  I hope the food tastes as good as it looks

McDoom
McDoom

Seeing those refried black beans in the picture makes me want to eat an entire can of them. Probably should not have skipped breakfast this AM

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

You guys really are giving it your all, aren't you? I love it.

Sturms_Bloody_Rectum
Sturms_Bloody_Rectum

Good interview. Will there be more Meso Maya's later down the road, or is this a one off? If there's more, will Mr.Sanchez's menu be over all of them? How was the food?

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Good interview, very interesting story.  (Someone else will ask the question, I'm currently thinking.)

MoronDog
MoronDog

Your comment means nothing without a pic.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

That was actually what my unasked questione was in reference to..soooo ummm you grew up in Mexico, and came to "visit"..mmmkay

Smells a bit like that fish soup from yesterday's C of A article.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

They wouldn't know...they just look at food, methinks..the point of a food blog named C of A is effing eating..Amiright?

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Gloria's has the best black bean dip.... mmmmmmmmmmm

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Wilonsky didn't care for my brand Observer-ation on the missing lady drawing last night..ask him about it Joe...guaranteed he laughed inside atleast.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Did you hear the Ranger's magic number for home field advantage is #1, Joe?

Kinsler rejoined the 30/30 club last night, with another homer and a stolen base.

And, I'm going to the Cowboy game on Sunday...weeeeee...hey guys, anyone else going?  I'm looking to party down like James Brown..maybe a little paela..or whatever that shit was..

Sturms_Bloody_Rectum
Sturms_Bloody_Rectum

we'll try and keep the clicks for checks up.

Throw us a give-up sports post in Unfair, ie: the AAC is replacing the rink boards; due to the NBA lock-out, the Mavs will be holding tryouts for players under five feet tall; or could the local sports scene be improved with a limited budget; why aren't there more people at SMU games?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

this is all we have now joe, shuttering the sportatorium was a bad idea, but we make due, and VVM didnt lose any readers, so hey a win win for everyone except mr whitt.  Do you foodies enjoy the traffic?

Storm_71
Storm_71

I have a satellite dish on my house. It was there when we bought the house. I don't have satellite tv but when people see that dish they sure think I do.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

You're going to jinx their asses. Suh is going to make Meso Maya out of Romo :(

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

I mean this honestly: If you guys believe sports blogging is such a lucrative endeavor, and you have time on your hands -- which it seems you do -- why not start your own sports blog? You're so nostalgic for a blog you clearly hated. Why not create your own?

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Seeing as how this thing is really lucky not to be 0-3, I don't think me and Mrs. Brokenshoulder are gonna jinx em..I'm figuring their GM has a much larger presence in their impending failure than you or I..or all the Joses and Juans, I'll be seated next to up in steerage.

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

Completey aware and understanding of the bottom line being an issue--it's a business first and foremost. And I'd be the first to say that Whitt's ROI wasn't good. Look at the week of his recent vacation where no fill-in was arranged. We wrote our own content, and we remained civil. There were good discussions. My suggestion would be to keep the Sportatorium active, and provide an open forum of sorts that refreshes every couple days so we're not sorting through 200 comments over 6 days time. If City of Ate can get 6 (SIX! says Norm) posts today, surely someone can write a paragraph of something topical to sports every day or two and let the inmates chew on it.

We all want to support The Observer and give eyeballs to the advertisers so you can wage your media war against the evil DMN. I also am interested in food, am partially-foodie, and cook and cook well, but it's weird that CoA is so very niche-y to the point where I'm intrigued by maybe half of the posts but the broad sports blog is shut down?

Nothing against CoA, I enjoy reading it as well, but it's hard to imagine its views truly warrant a 6 post to zero sports post divide today.

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

OK, so: Merten. Robert. Me, OBVIOUSLY. Who else would write for this fantasy Sporta? Any local bloggers who move you guys? Other sports radio people who can write? Who are the untapped sports minds of Dallas? And can I get the answer to this in an email (joe.tone@dallasobserver.com).

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

They can just make 3 open forums a day I'm thinking? We can take turns filling in the rest.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

We'd rather stay and have YOU pay us in hair plugs, laser eye correction, and P90x workouts.That's all we ask.

Joe Tone
Joe Tone

All good thoughts, Scruff. I wasn't suggesting you take it elsewhere. I'd like to keep you guys around, even if it is talking about C.J. Wilson's velocity in stories about the proper use of cilantro. We'll try to figure something out. One important note: No one here thinks eliminating Sportatorium didn't take something away from the site. It's subtraction by subtraction. But sometimes businesses have to subtract, especially in hard times.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

Listen to this geist Mr. Tone! The ghosts and other fictional members of the commentariat have spoken!

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

So you're asking readers to take their eyes somewhere else? Odd. We didn't hate it. Hate would've meant tumbleweeds rolling through and you getting less visitors than there are members of the RJ Choppy Fan Club. Richie claimed recently that views were excellent. We know his spin on those subjects is suspect, but it wasn't a ghost town with only me (being a spirit and all) and Davy (him being dead and all) showing up. What we did dislike was half-assed, condescending, or poorly-written quota-filling content. And yes, when Richie went big time, his writing went on a downward slide.

What we did do was create our own conversations, but since we support and like The Observer as a whole, we wanted it being represented in sportsy subjects better. You can't convince me Richie earned his paycheck, but I have to agree with the idea that you can have staff writers and interns throw out occasional bones and let us run with it in a debranded Sportatorium.

We lapped up Mertin's pieces like 105.3 on a Jerry Jones sound bite. Robert and Jim have done excellent sports-related content, and your piece on the game yesterday was appreciated and well done also.

Nobody's asking for 3 a day in there with no leader, but you were getting 3 a day in concept only anyway, it usually amounted to about 1.25 posts worth of content. We can cover the rest.

Josh's broken records
Josh's broken records

That would take alot more ambition and want to than we have Mr. Tone...we didn't hate the Sporty, just the direction it went after the midget got his radio job..it was show prep for the Tardline.

When the great Sammy Merten wrote a post up in there, we lapped it up...and prior to Richie's radio career..we were all good sporty's as well.

We just want somebody to throw out last night's freaking games/important shit from the sports page/opinions of said events...and if they have any chops we'll pat them on the back..and if they don't we'll jump em like a pack of armadillo'

We will entertain ourselves, but would like some help from yourself and your effing food staff of thousands...surely one of them likes sports?

Alice had the most entertaining article and responses of anyone under your umbrella yesterday..and it was about Doritoes..what's up with that?

If'n you're offering to let us into the Sportatorium, like I originally suggested in RW's obituary..then I'm quite sure we could all get together over drinks sometime and discuss..slap a coat of paint on it, maybe get some tight shirts for the bar wenches..popcorn..everyone likes popcorn.

MoronDog
MoronDog

We just want back in our house.

Sturms_Bloody_Rectum
Sturms_Bloody_Rectum

it's give up writing, that's our weak point. Just unlock the doors to the Sporty, we're not looking to hold onto the keys. Have fun with it. If any of your staff have a topic: skateboarding, has the long board killed it, or was the banana board just a fad, post it and let us rejects kick it around. Nothing like drumming up good/bad memories.

How about a new banner for it sports and stuff. Topics from sports to budgeted vacations(yes with families in tow).

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