Maycoll Calderón should be wiped out. His plate is, as they say in the industry, full. Venezuelan-born chef Mike, as friends know him, left a stellar 2 year gig at the J & G Grill to inaugurate his own Restaurante Huset in August, 2015. It quickly became the hot spot amongst D.F. trendies, word spreading by social media and old-fashioned word of mouth. A table in Huset’s lovely restored early 20th century patio, lit by a million small bulbs like Montmartre’s Moulin de la Galette, has already become difficult to procure. But Mike isn’t content; he’s already working on a new place. The dapper 30-something, who speaks near-perfect English, has arrived early for this interview, by bike. Although he spent most of last night behind his stove, he’s wired, eyes twinkling and he’s eager to talk.
NG: What is your background, how did you become interested in food?
MC: My dad was an artist, my mom an architect. So we were a cultured home. I grew up with the scent of oil paint in the house. It was expected of me that I would do something creative and cooking certainly is that. I grew up in Caracas until I was 9, then we moved from country to country, all over Latin America; this opened my view of gastronomy. So I went to CIA, then studied with Juan Mari Arzak, Karlos Arguiñano, Ferran Adrià and finally, Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
NG: How did you get to Mexico? And the J&G?
MC: I worked for 10 years with Jean Georges in N.Y., as cook then sous chef. They brought me here to open the J & G Grill. It was my baby, I created new dishes. But then came a time in my life and career to open a new restaurant mentally and professionally.
NG: What is the concept of Huset, and how did it come about?
MC: First we found this beautiful house; it was a wreck so took a long time to renovate. The space was perfect for my dream restaurant a cocina del campo – country kitchen– with a lot wood, hardly any gas. Wood oven, seasonal ingredients, fun, simple and delicious. And it’s my restaurant! I can do anything I want. I don’t have to ask permission. At Huset I do a lot of grilling. Everything we’re doing has my personality – I like bright flavors, from the first to the last bite, the customer always needs to be on a high note. That’s for me the key.
NG: What is “fun” to you”?
MC: Mexico is a cool country, there are awesome ingredients, so it’s fun to cook, everything is so fresh. Fun means the element of surprise, inspiration. I get amazing things – today, for example it was blue shrimp, so I have to improvise. Many times I get a call at 5 in the morning. Every day we print the menu according to what I get. That’s how I like it.
NG: I love how everything you cook is infused with smoke. What are your favorite dishes at Huset?
Though I change the menu constantly, one dish I haven’t removed is the gnocchi with lemon cream, wild mushrooms, parmesan – it has become one of the staples. I like cooking fish. I respect people who treat fish the very Japanese way. To find the right temperature in fish you need more technique than to cook meat.
NG: What do you like about cooking in Mexico and at Huset?
MC: Besides the incredible variety of ingredients here, there are the amazing traditions of Mexican cooking. But every day I read a lot to see what’s trending in N.Y., Asia. I wanted to have a restaurant where people come back, I say hi to them and they ask “Mike, what’s the catch of the day, what’s new, what’s exciting on the menu?” I think those touches make people come again and again. It’s the people in Mexico, the warmth, the interaction.
NG: Tell me something about the new place you are opening.
MC: We’re doing a ‘speakeasy’ type bar in Colonia Juarez. It will be two places with different concepts, one more formal, traditional Mexican food, nothing pretentious – real food, any time of day. In back there’ll be an English bar, sort of a gastropub. We’ll have the best bartenders in Mexico.
NG: Why will it be in Colonia Juarez?
MC: It’s the up and coming area. In Condesa there are too many places, Roma’s saturated, the rents are high. Juarez is like Roma was 10 years ago, there are hidden treasures, old buildings. And it’s becoming a dining out destination. Really accessibly from all around the city.
NG: Where do you see the restaurant scene headed here in Mexico City and in Mexico in general?
Right now Mexico is on top of the world. But I think we still have a long way to go. Michelin should be here. We need to bring training up to international standards. We’re getting great exposure, riding an awesome wave, which hopefully will last for a long time.
NG: What are your life plans?
MC:To just keep creating simple, delicious, good food.
Colima 256, near Insurgentes Roma
Tel. 5511 6767 – reservations essential
Open Tuesday, Wednesday 1:30 p.m. – 12 a.m., Thursday, – Saturday until 2 a.m., Sunday until 8 p.m.