Chef of the Month: Jesus Gibaja, Mixing Love, Passion and Truth When He Creates His Dishes
By: T.E.M Staffer | February 2020
A recent Tulum Tulum transplant, it’s not uncommon to find him walking around in Chanclas (flip flops) or barefoot at Mia, where he Executive Chef and Co-Owner.
Always Smiling, Jesus Gibaja is not the typical Chef
Photos by Bernardo Flores
Calm, cool and relaxed, you would never believe that Jesus Gibaja, Executive Chef & Co-Owner of Mia Restaurant & Beach Club, used to live in Mexico City, and lead the typical life of a crazed chef, multitasking while losing sleep every night. A recent Tulum transplant, it’s not uncommon to find him walking around in chanclas (flip flops) or barefoot, wearing a breezy white crisp linen shirt, Tuluminati style black pants, hair pulled back into a man bun, a days worth of razor stubble on his face, and a glass of wine in hand, mingling with the hip 20-somethings who frequent this new hot spot in Tulum.
This is how I found him, Sunday afternoon, when I went to interview him for the magazine. Before I knew it, we were sitting down at a table on the patio, with the ocean as the backdrop and a glass of rose in my hand. Not bad for a day at the office.
TEM: What made you decide to become a chef?
JG: When I was a teenager I didn't know I would become a cook. Originally I tried to be a professional soccer player, but that didn’t work out so well, I wasn't a very good player. which led me to realize that I had to make some decisions about my future. It was my grandmother that played a significant role in my decisions, and my greatest influence back then, to lead me down the path of Gastronomy.
TEM: Give me an idea about your cooking history.
JG: When I was a child, my parents used to both work, so I would spend my time with my grandmother, since she lived nearby. She would make me lunch everyday, and I would watch her and learn. It wasn’t the technique that I would pay attention to, but the ingredients she would use, and how they would create such an impression on me. The ingredients and the food she made from them allowed me to mentally travel to different places. It was as if she was a storyteller through food, and I learned how to be a storyteller through gastronomy.
TEM:How long have you been cooking for?
JG: I've been cooking for 17 years.
TEM: What tv shows have you been on?
JG: I've been in several cooking TV shows. The first one was 15 years ago, ‘Hoy Morning Magazine’ for Televisa (the most important TV show of Spanish Language), ‘Hogar Express’ for Utilisima, ‘La cocina de Gibaja’ on Fox (the biggest content in Spanish in the world for cooking shows), ´La cocina de los Pueblos Mágicos’ traveling and showing the amazing culture and food of México Pueblos, ‘México de Mil Sabores’ traveling all over México cooking and sharing culinary experiences, ‘Oye al Chef’ a cooking competition show.
TEM: Who is your favorite superhero and why
JG: My favorite superhero is Batman. He doesn't have super powers, but he transforms his fears into strengths.
TEM: If you could have a super power in the kitchen, what would that be?
JG: The superpower i would love to have in the kitchen would be the ability to clone myself several times so all of my clones could run the kitchen with me.
TEM: What are your favorite 3 ingredients to use?
JG: My 3 favorite ingredients are Maiz, beans and chilies.
TEM: What chefs have been an influence to you and your technique/style of cooking?
JG: I am influenced by several chefs but I think mostly by Juan Marie Arzak, Pierre Gagnier and Ricardo Muñoz Zurita.
TEM: What do you hate that other chefs do?
JG: I hate the ego in other chefs and their idea that they are the best. Chef’s should just be themselves.
TEM: What is your favorite thing to cook?
JG: I love to cook mole. Any type of Mole
TEM: What do you eat when you are at home?
JG: When i'm at home I eat potato chips with valentina hot sauce.
TEM: What do you like to cook when you are with friends?
JG: Pork Ribs.
TEM: Where are your favorite places to eat in Tulum and why?
JG: My favorite places in Tulum are Arca: Simple and great food, Philosophy at Casa Malca, which to me they have the best pizza in México; and I love any place for Tamales sold on the streets in Tulum’s pueblo, and lastly, I love the food at Hartwood.
TEM: Where are your favorite places to eat in Mexico City
JG: 1) Jaso, it's been my favorite place for fine dining, 2) Garum, I think the chef is amazing, 3) Tacos Canasta sold on the streets and, 4) Mercado San Juan
TEM: What gave you the inspiration for the Menu at Mia?
JG: Mia’s menu is based my travels through Mexico, for the past 10 years. The different ingredients, food, and people I have come across were all incredle. In inspirations come from that.
TEM: What 4 dishes on Mia’s menu is a MUST try for customers?
JG: 1) Maiz Infladitas with black beans, hoja santa (holy leaf), avocado leaf and pork belly chicharrón, 2) The octopus Tzic, with recaudo rojo (red achiote paste), orange juice, oregano, and homemade tostadas, 3) Baby back ribs with a lentil purée, red pepper and roasted garlic purée, and a drizzle of truffle oil, 4) Duck breast, with coloradito mole of Oaxaca.
TEM: Why do you think Mia’s menu is one of the better menus in Tulum?
JG: Because it is an honest menu: the prices are very fair for the food you are getting. That’s not even including the beautiful beach in front of you, while you are eating, and the amazing wine cellar Mia has.
It’s meeting people like Jesus, that gives me a whole new appreciation on chefs. He is humble, fun, focused, chillaxed and doesn’t need to prove anything in the kitchen. He is simply put: real & honest. More chefs should try to become more like him.
Lentil Soup with Chorizo
Chef Jesus Gibaja shared one of his ‘go to’ dishes when he cooks at home: Lentil Soup with Chorizo. Chef Jesus wanted TEM readers to experience a piece of his childhood.
This soup transports him back in time, to his Grandmother’s kitchen, with all the wonderful smells, flavors and the love she gave him both in heart and in food. It also represents a little but of latin love!
Chef Jesus says everyone should try to make lentil soup at least once a month because it is a soothing comfort food, that you can pamper yourself with. Even though this is a simple soup to make, it is decadent!
He recommends this soup with freshly made corn tortillas.
Lentil Soup with Chorizo
Serves: 4 / Difficulty Level: low / Can be made and kept in freezer up to 2-weeks
1 ½ liters Chicken stock or water
½ Medium white onion, rough chopped
3 Small to medium Red tomatoes, rough chopped
3 Cloves of garlic, whole
1 Piece Chipotle pepper, in adobe
2 Tbl of Olive oil
1 Link of Chorizo, removed from the casing, and chopped
⅔ cup Fatback or fat from Serrano ham
3 Pieces of Bacon, chopped
1 Green Plantain, chopped
2 Raw eggs, in shell
Salt & pepper to taste
In soup pot, place the lentils and water, cover, and cook over medium flame for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a blender, puree the tomatoes, onion, garlic and the chipotle pepper. Add the mixture to the lentils.
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil, and saute the chorizo, fat and bacon until browned. Reserve the oil, and add the meats to the lentils.
Add the eggs to the lentils, cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes.
Using the same saute pan, add the oil from the cooked meats, and fry the platanos.
Once the lentils are done, check seasoning - add salt and pepper as needed - and then add the fried plantains.
Ladle into bowls and enjoy!!
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.