Mexican Chef Carlos Gaytán

INTERVIEW: Chef Carlos Gaytán on Journey That Led to Becoming First Mexican To Receive Michelin Star

Rémy Martin

As the first Mexican chef to ever earn a Michelin star, Carlos Gaytán understands that whenever someone walks into his restaurant Tzuco, they’re looking for a culinary experience. The name of his restaurant, which serves upscale Mexican cuisine, is short for his hometown in southwestern Mexico, Huitzuco.

“[Customers] come with the highest expectations,” Gaytán told Remezcla during a recent interview. “So, I have to meet those expectations, and go beyond. It’s a challenge.”

The challenge, however, is one that Gaytán has conquered since opening Tzuco in Chicago in late 2019. With his unique flare in the kitchen and a strong reputation in the culinary world, Gaytán is using his strengths to tap into other opportunities too.

In celebration of Our Heritage Month, Gaytán recently partnered with the Cognac brand Rémy Martin to showcase the way Latine communities and families come together to take part in Sobremesa. This, of course, is the tradition after a meal where people hang out, have conversations and just enjoy each other’s company.

The campaign, Que Viva Rémy Sobremesa, allows collaborators like Gaytán to bring the post-meal custom to life across different Latine cultures by sharing their personal connections to Sobremesa and presenting their talents in a series of immersive events across the U.S.

“I grew up experiencing Sobremesa with friends and family,” Gaytán said. “Especially in Mexico, you stay longer after a meal … and have a good time with people you love. In the Latino community, it’s something we really enjoy. It’s a relaxing time for everyone.”

Gaytán welcomes the downtime after a meal, especially since cooking a new dish or experimenting with a new recipe in the kitchen is a lot more demanding. For him, it’s equal parts stress and excitement. It’s been like that since he was 14 years old when his father taught him how to prepare an animal. Growing up, his mother owned a restaurant in Mexico.

“I learned how to cook the animal and utilize every single part of it,” he said. “We used to get up early and choose the animal and then make barbacoa with it. When we went hunting with my father, we also knew to respect the animal and not waste anything.”

When Gaytán moved to the United States in the 1990s, his love and passion for the industry started even when he was working as a dishwasher in different restaurants. He saw how much food brought happiness to people and wanted to do that too.

“I knew I wanted to pursue that,” Gaytán said. “I wanted to learn how to cook, so I started working for free just to earn my way. I used to come to work early in the morning just to be in the kitchen helping peel potatoes and cut onions.”

Starting from the ground up and working hard for more than 30 years has brought Gaytán to a role he embraces now more than ever – running his own kitchen.

“You have to work hard, and you have to showcase how good you are,” Gaytán said. “I don’t want to be just a number. I want to put my heart into it and create something that separates us from everybody else.”