38-year-old Mexican-born Gilberto Cetina draws his inspiration from the traditional flavours of Mexico, with an inclination towards the southern states, in particular the Yucatan Peninsula where he was born. With no formal culinary training, he learned to cook at his family’s restaurant Chichen Itza, working alongside his father for 15 years. He took over as chef of Chichen Itza in 2010 and in 2017 opened Holbox, a seafood stand that focuses on sustainable ingredients, bold flavors and simple preparations.
At Holbox you can sit at the counter and watch your food being prepared with the highest quality seafood available in southern California, matched with the flavours of Mexico's different coastal regions. Cetina's love of seafood began in his teen years spending the summers on the coast of Yucatan, diving for conch and octopus and spearing fish with his cousins. The flavours of ceviche prepared on the boat with the catch of the moment are what he aims to recreate at Holbox.
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Doing what you love, and sharing it with the people you love.
What is the purest thing you have ever tasted? Baja California Blood Clam, straight out of the water.
What is the best thing you can do with your hands? Feed people.
What was your first experience with sustainable eating? I didn’t know it at the time. Diving for conch and spearing fish with my cousins in Yucatan. Then we would eat our catch.
What do you love most about what you do? That I get to feed people, share my culture and beliefs – all in a single meal.
What do you consider the most overrated ingredient? Bluefin tuna.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever been taught? To work hard and enjoy it. I learned that from my dad.
Is there anything you don’t particularly care to eat? Flavourless, soulless, generic farmed fish.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? A middle-class house dog – they have it good. (FYI, I love dogs. Shout out to Ellie and Ozzy.)
When was the last time you ate out, and where? Last week, brunch at Republic. That French Toast!
What are your favourite books or cookbooks? The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, Cocina Yucateca by Lucrecia Ruz, On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee, Modernist Cuisine by Maxime Bilet and Nathan Myhrvold. All for different reasons, but equally important to me.
What is the dish on your own menu that most engages you? The simplest one. Ceviche de Pescado. It’s a process I enjoy very much every day. Find a beautiful sustainable wild-caught or farmed fish, inspect, butcher, prepare, share the story with the customer, serve.
What do you make from scratch? Most things.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you are doing? Carpenter. I find a lot of parallels between cooking and carpentry. It’s all about the product you start with, the tools and the craft. There is also a parallel in the way we have been clear-cutting forest and over-fishing; they both need to be managed better and supplemented with sustainable farming.
How do you like to spend your day off? Chilling at home with my wife, my daughter and my dogs. We very much enjoy just chilling.
What is your current obsession, the thing you think about at 3am? None, I’m a fantastic sleeper. But seriously, what I think about the most is how to share my Mexican culinary heritage with diners, while being responsible in the products we use and being innovative in our dishes. I don’t want to cook my grandmother’s food because, well, she already did and no one can top that. The memories of the foods that we grew up with become almost legendary, you can’t top them, so we try to create new flavour memories for our customers.
What are the qualities you most admire in others? Humility, kindness, tolerance, drive, ambition, focus.
Can you tell us something we don’t know about you? I love Japanese food. Ramen, udon, sushi, yakitori, kaiseki. I admire the dedication to the craft, almost to an obsessive point.
Which three words best describe your cooking style? Simple, bold, balanced. Wow! Tooting my own horn here. At least those are the words I strive to achieve.
If you could eat only one thing today, what would it be? A meal cooked at home by my wife. She is a great cook.
What do you see when you think of the cuisine of your own country? AMAZING! I’m so glad I’m Mexican. The ingredients, the culture, the depth and the variety. Regional Mexican cooking is something that no single person will ever finish learning about, and that is an amazing thought, that you will never run out of things to learn and taste. Mexican cooking is sharing in the worldwide phenomenon of chef-driven kitchens that are exploring their heritage, their local ingredients and their regional specialties. Reinterpreting them and honouring them, through the lens of their own culinary experience. Cooks are a collection of things they have tasted, learned and been inspired by, and amazing things are a result of filtering regional cuisines through this prism.
Laneway Speciality Coffee on the importance of community
WHERE: 4/1 Vickers Street, Parap, Northern Territory 0820, Australia
“We love our community and that our cafe is a hub where people can come together and enjoy each other’s company. We have many regulars who walk up to the café with the kids and a puppy in tow (dogs welcome!), and our staff know our customers by name and coffee order. We give back to our local community by supporting charities with fundraising and donations. Our main fundraisers through the year are Red Nose Day and Café Smart, which we have supported each year since we opened four years ago.”
To read more about Laneway Speciality Coffee visit their Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery profile here.
The Drawing Board on two of their most special dishes
WHERE: 190 Kentucky Street, Petaluma, California 94952, USA
“Spring Baby Vegetable Crudite with Miso Tahini Paste: This dish is as nutritious as it is delicious. In its preparation we celebrate the centuries-old art of miso-making and the health-supportive benefits that come along with fermented foods. The Miso Tahini Paste serves as the foundation for the dish and is accompanied by the freshest local baby veggies available at the time.
“Kimchi Pancakes with Kewpie Mayo: This dish is a favourite for more sentimental reasons. It is an homage to our bar manager, Jenn Moonbrick, and her mom. Jenn's mom is originally from South Korea and sends giant containers of homemade kimchi from her home in Tennessee (along with pounds and pounds of jujubes and hand-harvested chaga mushrooms!) to keep the The Drawing Board team healthy. Inspired by her ancestral recipe, we created the kimchi pancake.”
To read more about The Drawing Board visit their Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery profile here.
The Drawing Board, Petaluma, California, USA
Ceremony on sustainable practices
WHERE: 131 Fortess Rd, London NW5 2HR, UK
“Most of our sustainable practices are tied in with our other practices, namely, using vegetables from our own garden, using seasonal produce, reducing the use of single-use plastic, composting, working with local suppliers to reduce our carbon footprint. We also strive to have almost zero food waste, using the entire vegetable wherever possible. Additionally, we don't have bottled water in the restaurant, but rather use a water filtration system for both still and sparkling water and refill the glass bottles per use. Leftover water and ice are stored in a large container in the garden that also collects rainwater and is then used to hydrate the plants."
To read more about Ceremony visit their Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery profile here.
Ceremony, London, UK
O.My on the cycle of seasonal cooking
“At O.MY we use only what we grow on our farm. Doing this keeps us in a constant cycle of true seasonal cooking. We do not out-source any vegetables or fruit. It is important for us to do this because we will try not to take any of the produce for granted, also farming is not easy and yield is always an issue. We have to figure out unique ways to use our very limited supply. This puts us in a state of near-desperation, which stimulates the brains of the chef to start using parts of the plants in ways that no one else would usually. It challenges and grows the passion and determination of everyone involved. Seeing a plant grow from a seed, harvested and then placed on the plate is something that every person should see. Growing all of our own produce has changed our outlook on life."
To read more about O.My visit their Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery profile here.
O.My, Beaconsfield, Victoria, Australia
Cosecha on women in hospitality
WHERE: 907 Washington Street, Oakland, California 94607, USA
“At Cosecha, it’s important for me to support women in this industry. I am passionate about helping women to find their voice, teaching them a second language, teaching them management skills, and taking all women to the next level in their careers. We have a mix of people working together from grandmas to high school students, and we prioritize staff hours around daycare needs and school schedules. We hire a lot of moms and grandmas who are great cooks but may have never worked in a restaurant. We need to start doing that as business owners so that we don’t lose women in the kitchen as soon as they start to have families. These women have talent, seasonality and perspective on tradition in a big way.”
To read more about Cosecha visit their Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery profile here.
Cosecha, Oakland, California, USA
Kebaya Dining Room on seasonal cooking
WHERE: Stewart Lane, 10200 Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
“We are passionate about reinterpretation, seasonality and the cultural calendar. We are blessed with a year-round summer in Malaysia, the ingredients are fairly abundant all year with the tropical fruits mainly being seasonal. The wait for perfectly ripe durian calls for a soufflé or the plump and juicy lychee are begging to be gently warmed in a curry. At Kebaya, it brings us great pleasure to incorporate seasonality and innovative cooking with the cultural calendar.”
To read more about Kebaya Dining Room visit their Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery profile here.
Kebaya Dining Room, Penang, Malaysia
Landhotel Hirschen on the slow food philosophy
“As a family-owned business, we are proud that our guests share our slow food philosophy and are willing to pay a slightly higher price than elsewhere. This philosophy is the based of all our meals. Our employees are educated constantly to ensure they meet all standards."
To read more about Landhotel Hirschen visit their Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery profile here.
Landhotel Hirschen, Erlinsbach, Switzerland
Kaliwa (Washington DC, USA): Kaliwa founded the organisation Chefs as Parents, which educates lower-income and less fortunate families about food and cooking
Ceviche (London, UK): Ceviche has a cycle-to-work scheme and company football tournaments to promote staff engagement
Salopian Inn (McLaren Vale, Australia): A local cancer group collects Salopian Inn’s glass bottles and receives a 10 cent refund per unit. In 2017 they raised $12,000 from the restaurant’s bottles
Amal Center (Marrakesh, Morocco): The restaurant’s offshoot sign language Café is managed by two deaf women who were trained by staff members that learned Moroccan Sign Language in order to communicate with them
Basic Kitchen (Charleston, South Carolina, USA): Basic Kitchen has partnered with a local Ayurvedic expert and counsellor to bring Charleston a seasonal Ayurvedic Dinner Series to help educated and enlighten attendees on the benefits of living and eating Ayurvedic
Chilean-born Giulio Sturla is the chef and co-owner of TL&CC Collective restaurant, Roots, which he opened with wife Christy Sturla in 2012. Giulio is also the founder of Eat New Zealand, a collective dedicated to celebrating local chefs, suppliers, tourism operators and more.
What first inspired you to become a chef? The opportunity to be surrounded by good food in a kitchen, to be able to try everything, and the sensation of pleasure when something is delicious. A journey to pursue food pleasure.
Do you have any stand-out early experiences with cooking or food? Eating ants in the Amazon when I was 20, eating my first cuy (guinea pig) on the side of the road in the Andes in Ecuador, and eating cochayuyo, or Chilean bull kelp ceviche.
Your Lyttelton restaurant, Roots, celebrates foraging and found ingredients. What element does foraging bring to the dining experience? Foraging opens up our senses and connects us to the natural environment. It give us the opportunity to continue discovering new ingredients every year. The never-ending curiosity and the astonishment that new flavours in the wild can bring is what we want to transfer from our dishes to our guest. We pick our ingredients daily so that the flavours are an expression of time and place.
What are some of the examples of foraged ingredients you have used on the menu previously? We have found everything from wild asparagus on the beach to reindeer moss in the Southern Alps, porcini and many wild mushroom in autumn to wild roses in the spring. Many wild fruit varieties such as peaches, cherries, plums, loquats, berries, and crab apples, as well as indigenous ingredients like kawakawa, horopito, manuka, puha, karaka, ti kouka.
You don’t have a set menu – why is this? We don’t want to limit our creativity to certain ingredients. We like to produce menus that express our freedom with the produce we find daily and the many techniques we can apply to offer a unique experience.
What are some of your other food philosophies or values? Our menu evolves seasonally to utilize the best of what nature has to offer at that particular moment in time. This way we can showcase the changing flavours and colours of our environment.
How does Roots champion sustainability and the environment? We support farms that are really close to the restaurant to ensure freshness and nutrition, our seafood comes from artisan fisheries in the South Island, and animals from the land are grass-fed and sourced directly from the farmers. All of our food is from New Zealand, unless ingredients that are not produced in the South Island like coffee, cacao, coconut products and very few others.
The source of energy in the South Island is hydropower, that is why we only use induction tops instead of gas. Our kitchen is zero-waste, we create compost with our green waste and grow food to give back to nature and understand it better. The same ingredients that our guests eat are the same as those used in our family meal.
You are the founder of Eat New Zealand. Can you tell us about this initiative and what inspired you to create it? At one point after opening Roots, I felt the disconnection between the food system and the people of New Zealand. I started questioning everything and looking for answers about how this system can be improved. After an email sent to 100 random people in the food sector, I realised many of these individuals had the same questions. The opportunity to get together and have a conversation to find solutions for a better food system is the inspiration that has motivated me to create this interconnection of food producers, farmers, chefs, fishermen, people, etc. and encourage talk around what we eat daily.
How can people find out more?
Is there anything else you would like to add? This conversation around food is relevant and necessary more than ever; we need every single channel to spread this message. We need to bring people back to the kitchens to start gaining the knowledge and independence to feed themselves, and to understand why food should be the most important thing in our lives. Good food feeds us, nourishes us, makes us happy and keeps us healthy. It also creates resilient communities working towards a more sustainable future.
06 December 2018
We asked Acorn's Richard Buckley, to answer the Truth, Love & Clean Cutlery Questionnaire. There are only two rules – you have to tell the Truth, and do it with Love.
06 December 2018
Seven special restaurants share their passions, ideas and philosophy
06 December 2018
Sharing truth and love each week with the amazing, inspiring initiatives of our restaurants.
06 December 2018
Giulio Sturla, chef and co-owner of TL&CC Collective restaurant takes to us about Eat New Zealand, a collective dedicated to celebrating influential chefs, media, tourism operators and more.