The DR Team had the great pleasure of bumping into Chef Alexander Theil at the Alfasaliah Globe Summit.
As described in the Summit, one part Latin American soul, one part Mexican Spice, and one part New York Attitude, Alex Theil grew up in Vienna, and he credits his family for inspiring his love for cooking since he was little. He started working in a professional kitchen at the impressive age of fifteen, trained, traveled and explored a decade in Europe and spend another in America, working for three well-known celebrity chefs which he calls proudly his mentors. In Riyadh to give a cooking class at the summit, we seized the opportunity to get him to tell us Arabic food was THE best. Hah. No, we’re just kidding.
Have you tried any cuisines in Riyadh? If so, which ones and what did you think of them?
I have never have been in the Middle East and I liked to see some typical preparations like humus, shawarma, baba ganoush etc. in the restaurants, which I knew already before. Kabsa, Bamia and the arabic breakfast with the bread and garnishes were my favorite dishes during my time in Riyadh. In general I am a fan of this cuisine and I am interested to learn more about it! Especially the secrets how to handle the variety of spices to achieve the perfect harmony in the dishes. In the end I am very well aware about the footprints that have been left in Latin American cuisine by the arabic people who moved there many years ago.
What made you choose Latin American food as your specialty?
As a chef I always was passionate about learning new things, cooking with new ingredients and traveling! After working in New York I got this offer about moving to Mexico to work in a high class resort. I mainly decided to go because I worked there for the famous Chef Charlie Trotter. I didn’t had plans to stay there for 8 years, since at this point I knew very little about Mexican cuisine. I learned very fast the potential of cooking with the ingredients I found there and while I was traveling through South America.
Do you think introducing a cuisine known for its spices, such as Mexican or Arabic food, is difficult in a European society?
I always thought so. The biggest motivation for trying were my friends and family who loved all the dishes that I have present them when I moved back to Austria.
What are your tips for doing so?
Besides skills and knowledge about the cuisine you need passion for it!
I am not Mexican and my philosophy is not to copy and paste recipes, just because they work somewhere else. You have to adapt to your surrounding, to local & seasonal products and to add vegetarian trends. One thing was always clear to me! The most important things are to handle the best products and keep the seasoning authentic no matter what! Since I did expect that there certainly will be lots of people out there who prefer their food pretty pure and plain, I am surprised and very happy how many fans I have won with my creations.
What's your absolute favourite meal?
I am a huge fan of ceviches and stews with mole! My absolute everyday favorite is a tortilla-chicken soup with avocado, sour cream, cilantro, lime & chipotle chili.
Any tips for budding cooks who want to experiment with Latin American food?
At the moment this cuisine is very popular. Most Mexican and Peruvian Chefs, that I can proudly can call “Amigos” strive for the same goals: Present prehispanic and criollo dishes at its best! Only since a couple of years a movement took place in all the Latin fine dining places where Latinos were forced to cook french or Italian cuisine. Talented chefs with cooking experience in Europe and North America started their one new creations “a nueva cucina de Latin America” and have transformed their new cuisines to many of the best restaurants. The San Peligrino 50 best restaurant list highlights just a few of these amazing places. There are many cooks out there who want to be a part of this movement and work in these restaurants.
Thank you very much for your time! We hope to see you again in Riyadh.
Thank you again for your interest! I hope that I could answer your questions and that you had a great time at my class.
Curious to know more? Chef Alexander can be found in his restaurant Mercado, in the lovely city of Vienna in Austria.