Haute Dining: 10 Questions For Chef Julian Medina

Chef Julian Medina has been cooking modern Mexican and refined Latin cuisine in Manhattan for over 16 years. But since he converted to Judaism over a decade ago when he married his wife Annie, a native New Yorker, he has been creating Mexican-inspired menus for the Jewish holidays—including his Mexican Passover menu that will be served April 6-13. This year’s menu includes a new dish: Tlayuda de Pescado, a Mexican pizza inspired by his recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, which will be served with Kosher wine and tequila.

Born and raised in Mexico City but trained in New York City at the French Culinary Institute, Chef Medina’s cuisine features his unique take on traditional Latin flavors with classic French techniques, into which he’s folded culinary traditions from Judaism.

Haute Living: What’s new at your restaurants?

Julian Medina: Right now my restaurants are gearing up for Passover. I serve this menu every year at my Toloache and Yerba Buena restaurants in New York City. The menu features my Mexican-inspired takes on traditional Jewish items that you find during Passover, like matzo and brisket, and will be available from April 6 – April 13 at Toloache, Toloache 82, Yerba Buena Avenue A and Yerba Buena Perry. I think these dishes are pretty exciting because they allow me to really try new things and come up with things that I might never have tried, like my Guacamole con Pescado Ahumado, which is a chunky guacamole with a smoked whitefish salad. This dish is so delicious and it is a truly unique combination.

HL: What are some of your favorite dishes at your restaurant?

JM: The dishes that I serve on my Mexican Passover menu allows me to be innovative and try new things, so these dishes are some of my favorites at the moment. I recently added Mexican Tlayuda to the Mexican Passover menu, which I was inspired to make during a trip I took to Oaxaca, except mine is made with Matzo meal. Also I make my Matzo Ball Soup with zucchini, carrots, epazote, and jalapeno scented chicken consommé. A few of my favorites at Coppelia, my 24-hour Latin-inspired diner located in Chelsea, are my chocolate-chipotle glazed chicken wings which I serve with a jicama slaw, and blue cheese dip, the Lomo Saltado and our Cubano sandwich. They’re all must tries!

HL: Where do you like to dine when you’re not working?

JM: One of my favorite places to go when I’m not in the kitchen is a small taqueria in East Harlem called El Paso. You can’t go wrong with any of their tacos.

HL: What’s your ideal meal?

JM: Tacos are one of my favorite comfort foods and my go-to, tacos are just perfect.

HL: Where do you like to dine on a special occasion?

JM: Chef Michael White’s Marea near Columbus Circle

HL: What’s your favorite NYC neighborhood and why?

JM: The Upper East Side. I just opened my sixth restaurant, Toloache 82, in that neighborhood, plus I live there with my wife and daughter, Olivia. I actually worked at Zocalo on the Upper East Side, which was on the same block as Toloache 82. So this neighborhood holds a lot of great memories for me.

HL: What do you like to do in the city on your days off?

JM: Spend time with my daughter. We cook together and she loves to help me out in the kitchen. We made this video together last Hanukkah and she helped me make my Whitefish Guacamole; she is a pro at scooping the avocado!

HL: What’s your favorite vacation destination?

JM: Mexico—I love going to my hometown Mexico City, and I also love when I get to visit other parts of Mexico, like Guadalajara, where I selected my own special blend of double barrel reposado tequila, a specialty blend that was aged for 11 months in toasted oak barrels. I serve this at my restaurant Toloache and it tastes unlike any type of reposado. At Toloache, we carry over 150 different types of tequila and mezcal, something I am very proud of, so when I get to travel to Mexico to select and find new varieties to bring back, I love it.

HL: What’s your most memorable meal?

JM: One of my most memorable meals was at L’ Atelier de Joel Robunchon in Paris. The experience was incredible: we ate langoustines with fresh basil sauce, foie gras, suckling pig and pistachio soufflé. That was a meal I will never forget.

HL: What are your five favorite ingredients?

JM: I love to cook with chiles, hot sauce, pork, beer and tequila.

Julian Medina’s Restaurants:
Toloache, 251 West 50th Street, between 8th Avenue and Broadway, (212) 581-1818
Tolaoche 82, 166 East 82nd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues, (212) 861-4545
Yerba Buena Avenue A, at Second Street, (212) 539-2919
Yerba Buena Perry, between 8th Avenue South and Greenwich Avenue, (212) 620-0808

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Visit food + travel writer + Haute Dining columnist Tracey Ceurvels’ blog, The Busy Hedonist for food + travel inspiration.