Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award 2021 - Best Reinvention

Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award 2021 - Best Reinvention

Eduardo García

Mexico City, Mexico

The iconic Mexican chef with a strong social conscience

Eduardo García – known in the cooking community simply as ‘Lalo’ – has blazed a singular path in the gastronomic industry. Born in a farming village in the municipality of Guanajuato in central Mexico, he moved to the US with his family in his youth, where he would gain experience in some of the country’s best kitchens before opening his own restaurant, Máximo Bistrot, in the Mexican capital in 2011. The restaurant helped cement Mexico City’s place on the international culinary map – but García’s path to success took a few twists and turns.

His family worked as seasonal agricultural labourers across Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, so García grew up in close contact with nature – something that would come to define his cooking. He landed his first job as a dishwasher at age 14, and by 16 he was already a cook at Eric Ripert’s acclaimed Brasserie Le Coze in Atlanta. His work ethic and drive were second to none, but after helping a cousin rob a liquor store, García turned himself in and was deported to Mexico in 2000.

The young cook would end up going back to the US to be by his sick father’s side, meanwhile taking another job in hospitality, until a new deportation in 2007 forced him realise that there were opportunities to be found in Mexico too. He got a job at Pujol – arguably Mexico’s best-known restaurant, led by chef Enrique Olvera – and honed his skills there for four years, until he decided to open his own place with wife Gabriela López. And thus, Máximo Bistrot was born.

García made it his mission to help his fellow countrymen by offering fair wages and employing as much local talent as possible. After Máximo Bistrot, he opened the more casual Lalo! in 2014 and Havre 77 in 2016, both in Mexico City, and grew his team from four to over 100. At his restaurants, he showcases the capital’s freshest produce picked daily from gardens and farms across the city, including the famed floating gardens of Xochimilco, seamlessly melding traditional Mexican preparations with modern French techniques.

With the arrival of the pandemic in 2020, García took it upon himself to support his network of suppliers by buying their produce and using it to cook meals for the vulnerable. At the same time, he moved his restaurant to a new, larger space in the Alvaro Obregón neighbourhood of Mexico City. The airy venue, with rustic wooden tables and a tree growing at the centre of the dining room, provides a perfect foil for García’s cooking, featuring the likes of soft-shell crab tostadas with green macha sauce, organic beans and cactus stew.

Admired in the Latin American chef community for his resilience, uncompromised authenticity and selflessness, and having proved his ability to reinvent himself during one of the toughest periods for the hospitality industry, García is a worthy winner of the Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award – Best Reinvention 2021.

Read the article and watch the video with Eduardo García:

The Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award – Best Reinvention honours a chef who has successfully reinvented themselves or their restaurant during the pandemic, creating a fresh blueprint for the future. Five individuals were shortlisted for the prize, with Eduardo García announced as winner on 22nd November 2021. The other shortlisted candidates were:

- Benjamín Nast – De Patio, Santiago, Chile
- Jaime Pesaque – Mayta, Lima, Peru
- Jennifer Rodríguez – Mestizo Cocina de Origen, Mesitas del Colegio, Colombia
- Telma Shiraishi – Aizomê and Água no Feijão, São Paulo, Brazil