10 Questions for Restaurant Cinq's German MosqueraBy Amber Ambrose
November 14, 2013
Restaurant Cinq, inside the boutique Montrose hotel La Colombe d'Or, is a classic Houston fine-dining destination. But chef German Mosquera is trying to freshen up the menu by putting dishes like Young Goat in Sweet and Salty Preparations - goat short-rib caramels and a shoulder pastrami egg sandwich - alongside stalwarts like Châteaubriand. And he does it all without tasting a single bit of meat or cheese. That's right, Mosquera is a vegan. Recently, the chef talked to us about his favorite food trends, why black garlic is one of his secret weapons in the kitchen and how being a vegan doesn't affect his cooking ability.
How do you reconcile being vegan with preparing meats for others to eat?
The way I cook, I can't taste everything that I prepare, but behind that is the science of consistency; the same uses of salt and olive oil, so I know where the flavors are with those ingredients. From there, I listen to what the customers are saying and my kitchen staff saying "that's good" or "that's bad." I get at least four or five people to taste it, from one person that doesn't really know too much about food to the person who's a super taster who can tell me, well, "that's a little too acidic" or "there's too much of that." I gather all that information and make a dish. Where I draw the line is, if I were to eat it myself, this is how I would prepare it. I'm not careless about it. I enjoy the same satisfaction from sourcing and knowing where it came from.
Can you describe the process you go through to come up with every dish?
I obviously know what ingredients are in season and what's at the market, but sometimes I'll hear a song or notice words that will pop out, and from there I know what technique I like to use. I am a little more deep into thought, not just saying "that sounds good" or "let's put that on the plate." Some of the reasons I go beyond that are my recent explorations with human satisfaction - how it's instantaneous or how it can be extended, and what goes into that.
Current trends you are tracking?
I guess vegetables are something I've been doing a lot of, and now it's really getting hyped up, so I'm in that already. From there, keeping it natural and simple. For a while we got really crazy into the modernist age of transforming and whatnot. And I appreciate those techniques, because I do embrace them a lot, but just because you can transform pineapple into glass or oil to powder or make spheres of this, and that doesn't mean it's going to taste good. I can't forage anything here, at least not enough to sustain a restaurant, so I can't track that trend. That's something I really enjoy, getting into nature, but I have actually tried to figure out what I can grow here [on the restaurant grounds] so I can mimic that. What I utilized throughout the summer [in an on-site garden] was young carrot tops - I wouldn't use the carrot at all, I kept using the greens - the okra flowers, fennel pollen, pineapple sage and curry leaf. An arsenal of little things.
Three ingredients you can't live without?
A really amazing salt, a really amazing olive oil - I just discovered one from France that my friend brought back - and, this is a really hard one… truffles. Boom - there you go.
Describe a meal that you've never forgotten.
During my time in Spain and my studies over there, one of the things I loved about the markets was fresh langoustines. That's something you can't find in the States, and that's one of my favorite memories. Going to the market and getting fresh langoustines, a few fresh Yukon potatoes and some wonderful garlic, and heading to my apartment that had a little stove. I would cook everything on there and simmer my langoustines in Estrella beer, because that's the beer of Barcelona (that was my favorite thing to cook with), and it was one of my most amazing meals.
What is the most versatile vegetable you cook with?
Mushrooms. I can dehydrate them, fry them, keep them raw, put them in sauces, braises. The reason why I like them is the umami. I really don't like using soy sauce. I stay away from those types of things, but the way I mimic that is by using black garlic, because it's naturally fermented. It can give the appeal of soy sauce's deep richness.
Something you learned working here?
Patience. Here it's a lot of intensity. From trying to go from old-school to new-school, but not knowing how to get from point A to B. Not being aggressive in my opinions, and just sitting back and watching and doing what I can without wanting to overstep or telling people what to do, especially when it's not my business. But I can make comments and suggestions that are positive.
What would you be if you weren't a chef?
I'd probably be an astronaut, an engineer or out in a forest somewhere.
Where do you spend time on your days off?
I really like to spend it out. I have a bicycle, and I really like to ride a lot. I like to get out in nature and just really be outside. On Sundays, our sommelier Sebastian and his wife do the whole wine dinner thing. Bars are fun, but it's always good to go drink a few bottles of wine, have some good dinner with friends, and it's relaxing.
Three restaurants here in Houston you'd recommend?
I like Cuchara. They make good, clean Mexican food; traditional food. I love Pondicheri because they have a juice bar there, plus good baked goods and a good vegan selection. Poscol is a place I like to go to every now and then. They do a good job of being simple and natural.