History and Heritage at ARCA
Chef Jose Luis Hinostroza Takes on Tulum
Editor’s Note: When longtime Life & Thyme contributor Jim Sullivan let us know he was planning to visit ARCA in Tulum, Mexico, we had a lot of feelings. Primarily, envy. But once that subsided, we were excited for him. We were also interested to hear more about how Chef Jose Luis Hinostroza was developing his menu, sharing the unique bounty of the country by working with local farmers and purveyors, and connecting with his own personal history as a California-born Mexican-American.
Below are excerpts from Jim’s conversation with Chef Hinostroza.
The last period of my life—before I wanted to open my own spot, before venturing off—was going to be noma. [I] did the last menu before the old noma closed, and then I was part of the R&D for the Mexico menu.
After I got to Tulum, I quickly realized I wanted to stay here. I lived in Barcelona, I lived in Amsterdam, I lived in Chicago, I lived in Copenhagen. But Tulum had a vibe completely unique to any of those cities. It had this energy.
I have always been a very anxious person and Tulum was the first time I was calm. I want to have this for the rest of my life. I connected with my Mexican roots and Mexican ingredients; my eyes opened to everything Mexico has to offer.
It’s like Mexico is seven countries put together. [There are] extremely different ingredients from each area; and then, of course, all that goes [with the] culture and [the] role [of those ingredients in] the society. One day you could be in the forest of Oaxaca, and then go to the ocean, and then go to the desert, and then go to the tropical area.
The best seafood in the world, in my opinion, is coming from the Pacific part of Mexico. Then you go to Yucatan, you have the Gulf of Mexico, you have the Caribbean… you have warm waters, and the fish changes completely.
I was learning about my country. I was learning about where I was coming from. I was learning history. I was really connecting with the industry. I was focusing a lot on pre-Hispanic, pre-colonial indigenous cooking. That is what made me stay here.
Star fruit was an overused, cheap buffet decoration when I was growing up in California. Here, when I saw my first star fruit and [I tried it, I was like], “This is what it’s supposed to taste like?” And it’s mind blowing.
You’re getting all these fruits from different parts of the world, but they come completely unripe, or they are not in their environment. Here, mangoes and papayas are super tiny and extremely sweet. Cinnamon and allspice trees grow here. You start working with the lime leaves, lime wood, avocado leaves, and avocado wood.
The epiphany moments have been the everyday products I was accustomed to that I now know how they taste.
The way we run the kitchen is egoless. It’s almost like we are all the chef there. I feel like all my sous chefs and all my cooks feel like they can have an opinion. We are a small team—twelve people—so we all have an open sense of communication.
There are all these little finds and treasures we are mixing with what we are already doing—which is respecting the seasons, respecting the ingredients, respecting the communities. At the end of it, it’s so much work, but I feel now we are doing it in such an elegant way.
A dish may not change your world, but there is so much work and discipline that goes [into] all the dishes at ARCA. I am nuts about the whole menu. I want to have that my whole life. If somebody asks me what the weakest dish is, I never want to be able to give [an] answer.