New Mexican neighbourhood joint Chicano on Gough Street embodies family and tradition with a modern twist.
The spirit of family and home cooking is at the core of Chicano’s ethos, where the Mexican cuisine finds its way from the streets of Mexico and Los Angeles to the trendy Gough Street in Hong Kong. Helmed by Gabe Perez and chef Edgar Vigo, Chicano offers refined Mexican food inspired by the traditional dishes Los Angeles-raised Gabe learned from his abuela, with every bite tied to floating childhood memories of fresh tortillas, tamales-making parties and spices combining heat and smoke.
Here, everyone is familia, and the camaraderie was visible the weekend Chicano opened, with many of the chefs’ entourage coming in to support or even help out.
We speak to Gabe about bringing a new type of Mexican cuisine to Hong Kong.
Tell us the story behind Chicano:
Chicano is a subculture in the USA. It’s people that were born in the States but grew up with the culture and heritage of Mexico. My grandmother came across the Mexican border in the late 1940’s with my uncles and aunts and they were brought across by a ‘Coyote’, a border smuggler. The ‘Coyote’ dropped her off in East Los Angeles where she would raise our family. The dishes that our guests are going to find on our menus are traditional dishes that are homemade with love, that I used to grow up eating as a kid.
What’s the story behind the design and what is its affiliation with the Chicano pride movement?
With the design we wanted to create a new era of Chicano and not be stuck in the stereotype of just lowriders and cholos, and instead shine the light on the Chicano pride movement during the 1960’s that no one knows about. It was a fight for civil rights [for Mexican-Americans], and I want to show my pride for that movement and show how we are still evolving and have come so far.
The design of the restaurant is not your typical design you would find for a place called Chicano. We had a space that was left by Gough on Gough, leaving beautiful marble flooring and an iconic staircase. We felt the flooring actually worked well with the pyramid designs that you can find in Mexico.
The print on the walls came from the Aztec version of the eagle you find on the Mexican flag. We isolated a part of the wing for this design, which ended up working out really well for our branding. This is our way of having the Mexican flag up but with a not so in-your-face type of way.
As for the windows, in Mexico City, you still find a lot of Spanish colonial buildings with tall doors and large open windows and courtyards. Our windows have helped us achieve a similar feeling.
What’s your background in F&B and what are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned?
Gabe: I have been working in F&B since I was 15 years old, I went to culinary school when I was 20 to get a degree and cooked in fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles, Barcelona and New York. When I moved to Hong Kong I switched to front of house and learned how to manage the business side with Black Sheep Restaurants.
In my industry the biggest lesson I learned is you have to love what you do. If you aren’t putting love into every part of this business, then you should go do something else. I put a lot of love into our food, our team, and our guests.
Edgar: I studied at the most prestigious school in Lima, Le Cordon Bleu Peru. I then worked at Disney Cruise as the youngest chef ever on board then worked at Le Comptoir, Pirata and S&S Hospitality in Hong Kong.
I learned two valuable lessons: lesson one, in order to become a strong human being you have to become mentally strong first and lesson two, you must anticipate as much as possible to perform at your highest.
Describe one of your best memories around food and family and why you want to bring that to Hong Kong:
My best memory around food was learning how to cook with my grandmother or mother. They were taught how to cook by eye, taste and texture, not by measuring cups and scales. Tasting after each ingredient went in and tasting it after a dish would stew for hours. This is the core of home style cooking. Of course, at Chicano we have everything measured out for consistency, but Hong Kong didn’t have this type of Mexican cuisine before. It was always cliche types of shops or fusion, but Mexican cuisine deserves its place next to the best restaurants in this city.
Give me a little background or stories from some of your favourite dishes on the menu:
Tamales were always made during the holidays. We would get together at either my grandmother’s or a cousin’s house to have tamale-making parties. We would make a few different types: pork, chicken, beef, and queso con rajas. This is one of the ways my family passes down the tradition to the younger generations and something that I will pass to my kids one day as well.
Chile verde is a very popular national dish in Mexico, I have had it thousands of times in so many places. But, the best one I ever had was out on a ranch visiting family just outside of Guadalajara. They made costillas en salsa verde, this version used pork ribs and slowly cooked them in salsa verde. I remember my brother fighting for the last bit at the bottom of the pot because it was so tasty.
My mother loved making mole for our family, she would make slow cooked chicken and smother it in mole sauce. With the pickled onions and some fresh tortillas on the side, it was to die for.
Mexican breakfast with cafe de la Olla is everything. Waking up in the morning to a hearty meal, either fresh tortillas, fresh salsa and the aroma of coffee, along with some pan dulce bought from the local bakery just down on the corner of the street was a great way to start the day.
What drew you to open your restaurant on Gough Street?
When things started getting better after the fourth wave, we were looking for restaurants that have become institutions in their areas and wanted to see how we could contribute our little Mexican restaurant to that. Seeing places like BEDU and COA set strong roots here, I knew it was the right place for us. I always wanted Chicano to become a neighbourhood restaurant. An all-day dining restaurant where our neighbours can pop in for a nice cup of Mexican coffee and get a hearty breakfast.
Chicano, 15 Gough St, Central, +852 6165 9846
See also: The Gough Street Revival