Met Chef Cristian for an interview a week and a half ago and I was amazed to see his place now, a very beautiful house turned into a fancy restaurant. Located in a very nice zone of downtown Cancun, this place has been the host of celebrities such as Domenico Dolce, Stefano Gabbana, Salma Hayek and Julia Roberts, among others. Locals, tourists, monarchs and celebrities, find their way into this place where emotions and a very strong passion for elegance, cuisine, privacy and wine meet.
Cristian and I go a long way, since he arrived to Cancun in 2003 -more less- and I am so happy for his upward career that is product of sensitivity, good taste and a lot of dedication. He was born near a vineyard (family owned) in Mendoza, Argentina. His table had home made cheese, charcuterie and wine. So he basically grew up with all of this running in his veins.
Nowadays, he has built and cultivated several strong commercial alliances with brands such as: Nespresso, Bui (100% Mexican natural spring water), Jeróme Moet, Veuve Clicquot, etc. along with a good relationship with Cancun’s Visitors and Conventions Bureau. Not everything has been easy for him; he had to start from zero when he arrived from Miami, 8 or 9 years ago. Then, he went to Europe to learn more and train. He had the fortune to do this with Ferrá Adriá and also in places like Zurich, Basilea, Italy, France and won a scholarship for the University of Barcelona, so he worked and learned for several years before coming back to Cancun.
The menu he offers has basically 25 dishes that are changed every month, his cuisine is Mexican, pre-Hispanic in fussion with another, according to the current tendency: latin, occidental, oriental, etc. The idea is for the food to be attractive to both locals and foreigners. The key for him is personalized attention and service; he and his staff recommend the wine, dishes and so on. Therefore, prefers to receive small groups -6 maximum)- to have careful attention with each one and go from table to table getting to know his clientele and recommending something special to each party.
He enjoys mixing flavors and producing dishes like: Duck confit, Salmon in poblano mole and chocolate, Huitlacoche ravioli with young pig on chive sauce or the chocolate fondant with blue cheese on hibiscus flower sauce. Sounds delicious! As he shares with us his favorite dishes, he sighs and says it has taken him 10 years to be where he is now. When he arrived to Cancun, he had to scrub boats instead of cooking. Because September eleven was recent: if Mexicans were struggling to get a job, newcomers more.
He feels the last 20 years have marked him in the sense of making him appreciate everything he has now and regarding food: from tortillas to caviar. “Some weeks, I did not have anything to eat or money to buy food. I was so desperate and only cried and cried. Nowadays, I cry a lot too, live a different situations and emotions; cry even when I watch movies after work”, he says. Cristian loves movies; he can stay awake until 3 in the morning watching them.
One of his favorite films is Cinema Paradiso; films like this one gives an inspiration to create an ambiance in my place that will make people come back. I use music, food, wine, etc to make them feel different emotions when they visit and then, they keep coming back. Some other movies Cristian enjoy watching are: American Cuisine, No Reservations and Ratatouille. He loves Ratatouille, in terms of the story and the idea of making a film that he considers more for grown-ups and animated, finds it interesting.
Recently went back to Argentina for a month, it was lovely to meet his family again. He cried the whole flight from Mendoza to Buenos Aires because he could not believe he was there and ready to see his family and friends. Everybody was warm and kind, as if I had left the day before instead of a decade ago.
Going back to this marvelous place, one thing we sell is privacy and therefore safety. Celebrities and monarchs can easily be here and no one will bother them. We have no photographers and they will feel at home.
Cristian feels that at some point, the concept of his place escaped from his hands. He never thought it would need to become so luxurious, thought it could be a very affordable place for common people to visit. It grew –upon request from the clients- into what is today: luxury restaurant, with private areas, to fulfill very high standards, special to welcome artists, government personalities from all around the globe, etc. It is a difficult segment and they demand to have now a certain Egyptian thread cloth on the tables, certain brand of wine glasses, Bvlgari towels in the bathrooms and sommeliers.
“I like closing my deals and doing my own marketing since I feel that I am able to sell first hand and promote what I know thoroughly and this is: my business”. He is also branching out to Mexico City, not with solely owned places –a wine bar in Paseo de la Reforma and a Gourmet Cafeteria near Parque México in the well known Colonia Condesa- but more with his name/brand saying “by Cristian Morales”.
His greatest challenges: starting from zero again when he left his former business partner and started a new place of his own, promising suppliers and no money until 30 days later. They trusted him because they knew him and thanks to that trust, he could start all over again. His fears include: not being able to meet the high expectations of his customers that raise the bar whenever they come back. The objective is not to get all crazy, trust his instincts and is pleased with the fact that he has evolved to meet all that with a very genuine sense of appreciation of his customers (he listens to them) and having a staff to support him at all times.
His advice to all of you dear readers is: do not lower your arms, follow tendencies and be aware that clients mark those tendencies so you need to listen to them carefully; input is essential. Be humble and remember where you came from and where you started. Be a better version of yourself every day instead of settling for what you have accomplished. “You may start as a boat cleaner as I did and then, grow into what I have become and keep growing since my restaurant is at 50% of what I plan it to be”, he adds. Regarding Mexico he did all this, since he was a foreigner but loved the people, the quality of life he could get here and the hospitality of locals.