If the name Mario Malváez sounds familiar, it’s because he’s been a stalwart of Mexican food in Singapore since 2012, being the head chef of the ever-popular Lucha Loco and Super Loco joints. Born and bred in Mexico, Mario’s stayed close to his roots, joining the F&B industry in 1998 and going on to open several businesses back home. He also spent some time working in kitchens around the world, joining a cruise company for nine months to travel around the globe and learning more about different cuisines. Along the way, he’s also spent some time in famed restaurants like Gaggan in Thailand and Central in Peru. As such, Mario draws influences from all over the world, but remains pure to the cuisine closest to his heart, which is why we’re excited to host him for the next instalment of Cooking Beats—Raíces on Thursday, 27th April. We find out a little more about him ahead of his session in the kitchen.

How did you get interested in food/cooking?

My parents worked hard to raise my two brothers and me. Mom and Dad would always try to give us the best: sometimes they would bring us to restaurants or street food stalls to discover a new universe of food. During the holidays, we would travel from the mountains to the beach and eat local produce. Sometimes we’d even camp and cook our own food! In Mexico, my folks would take us to local markets with lots of small street food stalls. On special occasions, they would take us to Spanish, Italian, or Japanese restaurants. There is a really interesting mix of culture and immigrants that mesh very well with our flavours. All this slowly created a very strong connection with the new flavours, colours, and aromas that marked my life since I was young.

Can you tell us how you came to be involved in Kilo Cooking Beats—Raíces?

Javier and Sharon invited me to their daughter, Amelia’s 1st birthday celebration. I cooked some beans from a recipe I’ve had for a long time, with lots of flavours and depth of taste. Joshua was there too; he came to the kitchen and tried a big spoonful of beans, and he said, “Dude, this is f**king good!”  So he, along with Sharon, Javier, Gisela (the executive chef at Grain Traders) and 70 other people loved them. On that day, we decided on the date to do Cooking Beats—Raíces at Kilo.

What’s something you’ve learnt from your different experiences from working around the world?

I took a year to travel and cook in world class restaurants to learn and get inspired. I saw things that I had never imagined before in my life—new products, techniques, and different nationalities sharing ideas. These helped me to keep learning all the time and get motivated in life.

Are there any chefs that inspire you/that you draw inspiration from?

Many of the chefs I’ve met in my life drive me to get more ideas and inspire me to continue studying and trying new techniques. I also learnt a lot from my Mom, Dad and grandmas. They are not chefs but they know how to season the food to take you to another level!

You’re bringing Mexican food to Kilo Kallang. Are there other cuisines you’ve been influenced by? How about Singapore, where you’ve lived since 2008?

Mexican food is so vast; I don’t think I even know it all. This is how I see Mexican food after all my travels. It’s also the food that helps me to connect with my childhood. My major influence in cuisine is Middle Eastern—it’s fresh, and there are a lot of spices, dry herbs, and different marinations.

Can you talk us through your menu for Kilo Cooking Beats—Raíces? What’s one dish on the menu that you’re particularly excited about?

Crudités with grasshopper salt aioli—I brought a bag from my last trip. It’s something new and exotic, and the taste is really nice. I also have a couple of traditional mole recipes from my ancestors, before the Spanish came to America.

What’s your earliest memory of food, or the first dish you learnt how to cook?

My earliest food memory was during Christmas when I was 8 years old. During the holidays at home, my family would be very busy because we have lots of events and food to deliver. I remember helping my Mom to make classic jalapeños en escabeche (pickled chillies). I would prepare all the ingredients for my mom to cook, slicing like 5kg of chili, carrots, garlic, baby potatoes and onions. At some point, I went to the toilet to pee and the pain was quite bad—probably because I chopped too many chillies, and my hands were also super spicy. Nobody told me that my body will be ‘spicy’ too! (laughs) Since that day, I learnt something that I will never forget. At the same time, I learnt how to make jalapeños en escabeche.

Can you describe a typical dish from your childhood?

Corn tortilla with oaxaca cheese. You have to grill the cheese till it’s melted and the tortilla is a little crispy, then you top it with fresh slices of avocado. A few years ago I started to add salsa and then it became the best dish ever, especially when accompanied by fresh agua fresca of lime and chia.

What’s your signature dish to cook, or something that you always make when you have guests over?

I make something that every house in Mexico cooks daily: a good plate of tomato rice with a fried egg on top, fried plantains, spicy salsa, and, on the side, black beans in a cazuela (skillet).

What’s something you would tell people to do/see when they visit Mexico? Or what’s the one place you always have to visit whenever you go back home?

It’s very difficult to pick just one experience or place. If you are in Mexico City, you must go to the Mercado La Merced market, one of the biggest in Latin America. Have a walk around to see all the colours and amazing smells of fruits. The people are very friendly and will give a little sample of what you ask for. They’re usually happy to show a bit if they’re not too busy. I always ask them where to eat inside the market—they know where is good and what product is in season.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m busy setting up Tono Cevicheria, my new restaurant in Duo, the the newest addition to the Beach Road financial district. We open in May 2017, so do come and visit us!

If you could invite someone, whether living or dead, from your hometown to dine with you, who would it be?

Mexican actor Diego Luna, from Star Wars.

Mario will take over the Kilo Kallang kitchen for Cooking Beats—Raíces on Thursday, 27th April, dishing up a 7-course feast to remember. Take a look at his menu below, and find more details on the event page here.
To make a reservation for dinner, visit www.kilokitchen.com/reservations.