FOODIE CONFIDENTIAL

Mexico magic

Chef Jason Jones' love for Mexican food started in 2008 while he was holidaying in the country.
Chef Jason Jones' love for Mexican food started in 2008 while he was holidaying in the country.PHOTO: SUPER LOCO

Chef Jason Jones finds Mexican food fun and wants to open more restaurants serving it in Asia

For 10 years, chef Jason Jones led the high life as head chef for film production company New Line Cinema.

He was in his 30s and oversaw a team of 20 chefs who cooked for film executives and celebrities during the star-studded annual Cannes Film Festival in France. His team cooked breakfast and lunch for the power meetings that the executives had about film distribution and catered food for glamorous parties.

It was while working in Oxo Tower Restaurant in London that he received a job offer from a catering company, which led to his stint in Cannes.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • A 25- to 30-course degustation menu from one of the best restaurants in the world, such as El Celler de Can Roca, paired with wine and champagne.

Now 42, the Australian chef says money was no object when it came to buying top-notch ingredients.

"Being a chef at the festival was the creme de la creme of cooking jobs as I had an unlimited budget when it came to food. We went crazy getting the best ingredients, such as scallops and truffles from Brittany, horseradish from the United Kingdom and Iranian caviar."

Outside the kitchen, he would go to at least one movie premiere party every night, rubbing shoulders with actors such as Daniel Craig and Mel Gibson.

He remembers a Lord Of The Rings-themed party in a castle, where guests felt like hobbits because of the oversized furniture, 2m-tall bartender and 3-litre mugs of beer.

Jones, the youngest of four siblings, also worked as a private chef for wealthy families in Spain, Italy and the UK the rest of the year.

After an eye-opening holiday to Mexico, he returned to Melbourne in 2010 to set up Mexican restaurant Mamasita, which became very popular.

He is also a familiar face on reality television show MasterChef Australia, having appeared as guest judge and instructor in four seasons.

Today, he is the culinary director of The Loco Group, which owns two casual Mexican eateries, Super Loco in Robertson Quay and Lucha Loco in Duxton Hill. He was a consultant to the restaurants before relocating to Singapore to become a partner this month.

Jones, who is married to a 33-year-old Chinese Australian training to become a yoga instructor, hopes to expand the group's stable of Mexican eateries in Asia soon. He says: "Mexican food is fun and informal and is associated with fiestas and making a mess sharing tacos and nachos."

How did your interest in cooking begin?

I grew up on a farm by the beach in Bermagui in New South Wales, where my parents grew about 20 varieties of vegetables, from cauliflower to tomatoes to chayotes. When I was 10, my eldest sister, who is a chef, taught me how to cook and I read cookbooks and cooked at home after school. I would make vegetarian quiches and pies. There were a lot of burnt pots that my poor mum had to clean up.

Why did you want to become a chef?

My sister told me that chefs can travel around the world to cook and it was an exciting idea to meet people from different cultures and cook with ingredients from around the world. I was hooked on the idea of being able to travel for work.

How did your love for Mexican cuisine begin?

I first visited Mexico for a holiday in 2008. It is a fun and cheap destination with friendly people, lots of parties, a great surfing culture and a laid-back vibe. It was my first exposure to the amazing food, such as chicken mole with chocolate-laced sauce.

What food do you remember most from your Mexico trip?

Although I ate in many restaurants, what left the biggest impression was a street-side taco stall in a quiet back alley. The stall owner makes the tortillas on the spot before topping it with minced meat from a pot, and herbs.

How did you learn to cook Mexican food?

It was through observing and learning from my Mexican friends and from the locals whom I cooked with during my holiday in Mexico, who shared their family recipes.

What are your favourite ingredients to work with?

I love to add pureed dried Mexican chillies such as ancho, guajillo and mulato to sauces or salsa. I also like chipotle as it is smoky and spicy. I love to add it to mayonnaise and salsa.

What do you think is the most challenging Mexican dish to cook?

Tamales (Mexican dumplings wrapped in corn husks). Making the dough is an art as the lard needs to be beaten smoothly, so that it can be seamlessly rolled into the dough. One way to check if the lard is well-incorporated is when a ball of dough floats in water. After the dough is steamed, the texture should be light and fluffy like a sponge cake, instead of being dense and sticky. There are only four ingredients, but it is one of the hardest dishes to get right.

What's your favourite Mexican food?

Ceviche with fresh raw fish and seafood in citrus juices. It is a healthy dish as you feel good eating it, yet it is spicy and lively. I like snapper, king fish and mahi mahi, which have a firmer texture.

What are your favourite Singapore foods?

I like the black pepper crab from a zi char stall in Tiong Bahru. I also like chicken rice from Maxwell Road Hawker Centre and char kway teow from Zion Riverside Food Centre.

What's your guilty pleasure when it comes to eating?

A taco filled with mayonnaise and deep-fried pork belly, dipped in butter. It is like fat cooked in fat and served with fat.

Do you cook at home?

My wife is an exceptional cook, so it is challenging for me to cook. Occasionally, she lets me cook and remembers that I am actually a chef. I love her congee, which is her family's recipe. It is cooked with lap cheong, soft boiled egg and shallots. It makes a beautiful breakfast.

If you could pick anyone to have a meal with, who would you pick?

My mum as I have been pretty much absent from home for a big part of my adult life.

kengohsz@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'Mexico magic'. Print Edition | Subscribe