Atlanta Chef Maricela Vega Takes Her Mexican Roots to San Francisco’s Turntable

Chef Maricela Vega prepares for Turntable in San Francisco.

Chef Maricela Vega, creator of Atlanta pop-up Chico, brought her Mexican roots and love for Southern cuisine to San Francisco.

Vega begins a month-long residency today, October 5, as guest chef at The Turntable at Lord Stanley, the Michelin-starred restaurant showcasing the cuisine of world-renowned chefs and up-and-coming chefs

With plans to create a physical store for Chico with production space, weekend counter space, and a series of special dinners, Vega said the residency at Turntable was a perfect precursor. “I’m always looking for opportunities to keep learning, and Turntable incorporates all those models that I still need to learn more about.”

Mari spent about four weeks in the Bay Area in the spring of 2018 and is also struck by its rich culinary history. “This area has always been an inspiration, I learned so much about community development the last time I was there. As a Latina, it’s always great to have the chance to go to such places. other cities and seeing other Mexican chefs perform, which I don’t have easy access to in Atlanta.

Like many drawn to a life of cooking, Vega comes from a big food family. His fondest childhood memories in Dalton, Georgia include his mother always having a fresh, home-cooked meal on the table at 4 p.m., just as the kids got off the school bus, and delicious breakfasts on the weekends. end. There were also family gatherings and grills when she visited her family in Mexico

“My family in Mexico is made up of farmers, and when we visited them it was an opportunity to share special meals where they would butcher a specific pig or goat,” she said.

Vega has cooked across Atlanta, acknowledging the kitchen staff for her informal but crucial culinary training.

“I worked with prep bosses who had worked under Kevin Gillespie in his early days and had great training. They taught me the techniques of French cooking. I then worked with Chef Nimma Osman at Sun in my Belly who had just moved from New York and was cooking at Craft and Daniel, places I could only dream of eating.

She also learned how to do mass production cooking, honing that important speed skill set, and knocking off production rosters.

Vega did nine months of super-intensive pasta production at 264, then moved to Empire State South where she worked under chef Joshua Hopkins, then as executive chef at the now closed 8ARM.

She credits Hopkins with helping her completely change the paradigm on how she would pursue cooking.

“Joshua helped me get an apprenticeship on an urban agro-ecological farm. I spent my mornings cultivating and my afternoons setting up my station at the restaurant and breaking down some of the same vegetables I helped grow and harvest. It deepened my connection to my ancestral roots, my farming family, and started me on the path to creating Chico, my food business.

Vegan started selling tamales on Next Door to her neighbors, and as her business grew, she entered farmers markets and became part of the community. There was one more step she wanted to take to honor her family roots: using locally-bred ingredients.

“I never thought of importing corn for my masa paste,” she explained. But as she began to research Mexican cuisine the same way she had researched Italian regions to give authenticity to the pasta she made, she began to learn about corn from local breed. “Landrace means that the seeds have been kept in that family, village, or small area of ​​land for hundreds or even thousands of years and become part of that land.”

Unlike heirloom seeds which are also saved and passed on but can be planted anywhere, landrace ingredients must be planted in the region where they originated.

If you find yourself in San Francisco this month, be sure to drop by Turntable and send your regards to Vega from ATL.