Chef of the Month: Angie Mata, an Unstoppable Force in Tulum
By: Jonty Reese | November 2020
A veteran of Mexico City kitchens since she was 15, starting at her uncle’s bistro, Angie worked her way through culinary school, fancy restaurants, Riviera Maya hotels, bakeries, and even a falafel shop.
Photos by Bernardo Flores
Modest, humble and passionate, Angie Mata, is a major contender in Tulum's ever changing food scene
The Boca Paila beach road in Tulum is blessed with many famous and excellent restaurants - some even both famous and excellent. But the constant renewal of chefs and locations means there is plenty of opportunity for feisty newcomers to elbow their way into the upper echelons of Tulum’s buzzing food scene. Our visit to Kitchen Table proved that a relocation and a reimagining of an old favorite can be equally effective in shaking up the top dog leaderboard.
The commitment to providing genuine value remains but a recent move to the busier hotel zone section of the beach road meant that it was time for shy, retiring Kitchen Table to step out and become outgoing, look-at-me-now Kitchen Table. There’s a vibrancy you can feel as soon as you step through the front entrance, reflected during our visit by the number of full tables, even in these trying 2020 times. Introducing, Chef Angie. She cooks in transparent way and without pretense and she believes "Life is about sharing moments and food is our common ground. That's the only genuine way to connect with each other. People should embrace both!" And her food, transmits this message in a very humble, yet bold way. A veteran of Mexico City kitchens since she was 15, starting at her uncle’s bistro, Angie worked her way through culinary school, fancy restaurants, Riviera Maya hotels, bakeries, and even a falafel shop. That experience has stood her in good stead, and she is ready to take on the spotlight in the center of the Tulum beach road.
The architecture of the new Kitchen Table recalls the old location with a classic Tulum jungle canopy, but with a more open, energetic feel. Passing through the host station up front, you’ll notice a well stocked bar to your left, but your eye will be drawn to the completely open kitchen and brick oven dominating the whole rear of the restaurant. It’s a hive of activity, with crowd pleasing open flames and sizzling pansT letting you know you’re a part of the action. We’re in this together, and it’s a great ride.
We first stopped into the bar to see what the skilled mixologists had conjured up as the Cocktail of the Day. Every day, there’s a fresh concoction and we were thoroughly impressed with both the Hibiscus Sour and the Diablito. Kitchen Table makes a point to produce as much in-house as is humanly possible, and that extends to the cordials and aromatics in their cocktails. The Hibiscus Sour, served in a conical Martini glass, was a potent, tart delight. The house produced hibiscus syrup (Jamaica to locals) blended beautifully with Pox, a traditional Mayan sugar based liquor, and was offset with a dash of Angostura Bitters. As an interesting and very Tulum touch, the usual Sour whipped egg white was replaced with a garbanzo foam – vegans like a cocktail too! Our other opener, the Diablito, came in a larger mason jar style glass and was a tasty and surprising blend of Mezcal, red bell pepper syrup, chile arbol, cucumber, and Tajin salt. It was at once spicy and refreshing – a great aperitif and perfect for the tropical jungle environment.
So how does the kitchen match up to the high standards set by the bar staff? We opted for a sample of several dishes from the menu, starting with an appetizer of Shredded Mussel and Longaniza Wontons, which were simply delicious. Served
over a bed of light whipped potato, with asparagus spears,
they were outstanding. Combining shredded fresh mussels
with the local Yucatan Longaniza sausage isn’t an obvious
choice, but it worked beautifully. I could have ordered more
and made a meal of it.
The wait staff knew we were there to try several dishes so they kept them coming at a brisk pace. Next up was a plate of juicy, meaty Shrimp “Kisim”, or “Devil” in the Maya language. As the name suggests, these were spicy, in a rich sauce including chard, garlic oil, red onion, chipotle, guajillo, and ginger. Served with heads on, but the rear shell removed, this was another winner. While we scooped up the last of the sauce, the freshness of the ingredients was demonstrated by the arrival of a couple of local fishermen, straight out of the sea and carrying handfuls of lobster. They catch shrimp, lobster, and other seafood by hand, and walk it straight to the kitchen, where it goes into large coolers of water, ready to be cooked there and then. If it’s a bad day for catching lobster, lobster is off the menu. The menu is fairly short and changes daily based on what the local providers deliver, which guarantees that it is as fresh as the ingredients. Diners are welcomed to pick their seafood from the coolers, and it all contributes to the engaging, inclusive atmosphere.
Our third dish completely changed my outlook on eating octopus. I’ve eaten pulpo many times, raw in ceviche, grilled over a wood fire. You name it, I’ve tried it. And notwithstanding concerns over how intelligent a creature our 8-legged friend is, I just never found them that interesting a meat. Scratch that – the Octopus Carnitas was a revelation, tender and juicy inside with a crispy caramelized outer. It was perfectly spiced, and like everything we ate at Kitchen Table, beautifully balanced. So good! Continuing the balanced theme was an order of Cala Nik, indigenous masa cakes with creamy beans, pico de gallo, and onion. It was a comforting counterpoint to our other spicier entrees, laying down a solid rhythm track for those spectacular soloists.
Rounding out our sampler meal were two terrific, freshly baked “cookies”, although I would almost classify them as “tarts”. These were part of a new venture that Chef Angie Mata has cooked up with partners Nacho Lamas and Julio Ontiveros, to bring delicious baked goods to the chronically dessert challenged Tulum market. I don’t know if these will be a permanent addition to the ever changing Kitchen Table menu, but I certainly hope so. Maybe the bar can whip up a suitable cookie accompanying cocktail? You know they can.
The whole Kitchen Table experience was top notch, from the friendly staff to the open kitchen, from the fresh local ingredients to the inventive and lovingly prepared dishes and drinks. You almost feel like the studio audience at a cooking show, being fed straight from the celebrity chef’s kitchen. You’re a part of the show, and that is a great place to be. There is a commitment to empathy, anticipation, and thoughtful service at Kitchen Table that makes it stand out from the crowd, for tourists and locals alike. Date night, special occasion, impressing your friends from out of town, or just need a great meal, Kitchen Table is a perfect choice.
Address: Carretera Tulum a Boca Paila km 6, Tulum, QR, Mexico
Phone: +52 1 984 188 4924
Hours: Every Day 6pm - 10pm (Covid restrictions)
Tulum Eats Magazine is published 12 times a year, unless we decide to go on prolonged vacations. You can find the print magazine at select locations throughout the Riviera Maya, and in some East Coast establishments, where we will randomly place, during selective times. The website will be updated monthly, with selected materials that may or may not be the same as the print version. Look for us soon, in other states of Mexico.