Santiago Lastra, the nomad has settled

British products, Mexican background. A preview of Kol, one of the most awaited openings in 2020. In London and beyond

09-12-2019
Santiago Lastra Rodriguez, from Mexico City, with

Santiago Lastra Rodriguez, from Mexico City, with experience in the great Nordic and Basque cuisine. He’s about to open Kol in London, early in 2020 (photo Haydon Perrior)

A pack of Ritz. The recipe for crab sauce on the back. A worn-out book of Italian recipes with a splash of tomato on top. The debut of Santiago Lastra in the kitchen was back when he was 15, when cooking was most of all a passion shared with mathematics and an odd weekend job in the Italian restaurant next door to his place in Cuernavaca (Mexico).

Loosing his father and both his grandparents in the space of a month was a turning point, the moment when Santiago realised that his passion could, and should, become his future. In the most terrible storm, cuisine became a safe port, a place where he could push aside all his worries, where some left-over pizza and pasta could bring a fleeting smile on the face of his mother and younger brother Edoardo.

The realisation he had found «Something similar to what for many is the love of a lifetime» turned into an ambition: the internship at starred restaurant Hotel Europa in Pamplona, the return to Mexico at the Instituto Culinario Coronado, the months spent at Mugaritz learning that “creativity has no barriers”, the master at the Basque Culinary Center, the moving to Copenhagen, first at Bror – a ‘nose to tail’ restaurant – and then the arrival at the Nordic Food Lab

Carnita of oyster and sea-buckthorn (photo Jason Loucas)

Carnita of oyster and sea-buckthorn (photo Jason Loucas)

A journey in search of innovation, at a time when the culinary Mecca was somewhere between Spain, Denmark and Latin America, which made him unrealise that “every time you understand what’s innovative, what’s new, it’s already old. The only way to chase innovation is to try and innovate yourself”. The inspiration came during a four-handed dinner with colleague Alex Nietosvuori, in the week between the end of the experience at Bror and the beginning of the experience at the Nordic Food Lab: a Mexican menu entirely made with local ingredients. Participants called it Nordic-Mexican cuisine, a definition that would make many interested.

This is how Chef Nomadewas born: Santiago enclosed all his life in a suitcase – including his birth certificate – and started to travel, at first spending 3 weeks in every destination. The first two to discover the markets, the ingredients, the people’s relationship with food in different cultures; the last hoping to find someone who would hire him in the kitchen. This is how he started to collaborate with Carousel in London, Valeria Mosca in Italy, or how dinners in Berlin, Moscow, Taipei came about...

Until Rosio Sanchez called him. At the time, she was head pastry-chef at Redzepi’s Noma, and made him an offer to which he could not say no: become the project manager at Noma Mexico, planning the research trips, the logistics, the supply of the best ingredients in the country. A difficult task, especially because «René gives you all the responsibility, but you know that ‘good’ is not enough. It’s a pressure that leads you to excellence, when nobody will ever tell you what to do».

Oxtail and mole of dog rose (photo Jason Loucas)

Oxtail and mole of dog rose (photo Jason Loucas)

While travelling from one side of the country to the other, cooking in the heart of the rain forest, preparing masa with native people and testing dozens of oysters, tomatoes and ingredients gave him the impression of having returned home, in fact it had awakened a new need, that of presenting Mexico to the world, through its culture and personality, with dishes that have a Mexican flavour regardless of the ingredients and the territory. The setting for this story-telling is London, the most suitable capital in Europe, a multicultural metropolis and a city where 3 years ago the nomad peregrinations of Santiago have ended.

Early in 2020, the opening of Kol, a restaurant with a Mexican concept but with ingredients from the United Kingdom. Biodynamic wines and mezcal will complete the culinary offer. One of the most awaited openings of the new year.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso 


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