Features on StarChefs.com
Cinco de Mayo 2006
Low Food Cost Gives Chefs a Reason to Celebrate
By Miriam Marcus
Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day but a commemoration of Mexico’s victory – against great odds – over the French at the “Batalla de Puebla” in 1862. The cultural meaning of honoring that victory has come to represent greater Mexican patriotism and unity among Mexican communities in the US.

While everyone likes to see the underdog win, for many chefs and restaurant owners, the distinction of the holiday lies more in the profit potential. Honor and celebrate the holiday by offering patrons high end specialty items they come to expect incorporated with traditional – often less expensive – Mexican ingredients. » more


from Chef Julian Medina of Zócalo – New York, NY
Guacamole Trio
» Ceviche de Res
» Tacos de Foie
» Callos de Hacha
» Patsy Margarita

Food cost is arguably one of the most important business challenges one must conquer when running a restaurant. Calculated as net food purchases over net food sales, 30-40% food cost is generally acceptable in many food establishments. Bar sales tend to be acknowledged as the biggest money maker, but a creative holiday menu such as this Cinco de Mayo menu can bring even greater profitability. The holiday is an opportunity for chefs to lower their food costs by pairing more economical, standard Mexican fare such as beans, tortillas and avocados with culinary treats such as foie gras and sea scallops.

Chef Julian Medina of Zócalo, an upscale restaurant with two locations in New York City, serves modern Mexican fare every day – not just on Cinco de Mayo. Take his recipes as inspiration – not only to create adventurous cuisine, but to pair authentic Mexican-inspired dishes with distinctly un-Mexican ingredients. The result is a fine dining Cinco de Mayo celebration with controlled food costs and satisfied customers.

Guacamole can be a very profitable menu item with plate cost at just a few dollars and menu prices in the teens. Chef Medina offers a trio of this Mexican staple, highlighting the regional diversity of this national dish. The first is traditional guacamole; the chunky blend of avocados, fresh cilantro, onion, tomato and jalapeño is a classic. Guacamole Rojo offers a smokier heat with chipotle chile puree, balanced by a sprinkling of queso fresco, a fine-grained, fresh Mexican cheese. Chef Medina’s lively Guacamole con Granada is sweet and fruity with the addition of mango, apple and pomegranate seeds.

Inspired by his love of steak tartare, Chef Julian incorporates Mexican flavors into his Ceviche de Res. The meat pairs perfectly with smoky chile morita salsa and acidic key lime; crunchy sea salt and a smooth, runny quail egg yolk bring this dish together. The chef keeps food cost low by slicing the prime rib eye paper-thin.

The rich and decadent Tacos de Foie is Chef Medina’s Parisian take on traditional Mexican liver tacos, that are typically eaten with sautéed onions and salsa. Inexpensive pinto beans, onion and tortillas balance the high price of foie gras. Served in a palm-sized warm tortilla, a dollop of smooth, smokey pinto bean puree is topped with a richly nutty portion of foie gras, caramelized onion and arbol chile salsa, and garnished with chopped chives and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Perfectly seared scallops wade in a hot and sweet Meyer lemon and chile vinaigrette in Callos de Hacha. Make sure to use Hass avocados, which retain their shape well when fried. The textural contrast of a crisp layer around the avocado’s buttery smooth flesh completes the dish with the inviting scent of the light citrus-based sauce.

A Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo is not complete without Chef Julian’s signature Patsy Margarita. It’s no secret that bar sales skyrocket on this holiday. Take advantage of price control at your restaurant bar when serving this classic and pure, no-fuss margarita. It’s what a true margarita is meant to taste like: ice-cold, smooth Patron tequila with the orange-essence of Grand Marnier and freshly squeezed lime juice.


¡Viva Cinco de Mayo!


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   Published: April 2006