Chef Alfredo Garcia prides himself on sharing the essence of Mexican cuisine with Washington, D.C.-area diners. (Photo/Courtesy Scott Suchman)

Chef Spotlight: Alfredo Solis on the essentials of Mexican cuisine

Vitals: Born and raised in Mexico City, Chef Alfredo Solis was brought up in a home where meal times were held nearly sacred. That was how he first learned to value food, says Solis, and to this day he counts the simple meals of his youth as his favorites. Now 33, Solis has been cooking for more than two decades and is currently the chef de cuisine at Fuego, a Mexican restaurant in Arlington, Virginia.

Experience: Solis immigrated to San Diego at just 19 years old, where he landed his first job working as a dishwasher. Drawing on his experience cooking alongside his mother, Solis was promoted to prep cook and later, line cook. In 2001, Solis joined a cousin in Washington, D.C. and soon amassed experience at restaurants like Zola, Ceiba, Acadiana and District Commons and Burger, Tap & Shake. As the chef de cuisine at Fuego, Solis brings the soul of his beloved mother’s cooking – think classic fare like tacos, tortas, enchiladas, carne asada and chile rellenos –  to DC-area diners with the promise that his food represents “the real Mexico City.”

Chef Alfredo Solis

Chef Alfredo Solis (Photo/Courtesy Scott Suchman)

On his earliest childhood memory: “The Posadas, during Christmas. It’s a tradition where you go house to house singing songs, and to be honest, when I was a kid I always picked homes where I knew there would be good food. Like Saturday would be spent at the house where they made the best posole; Sunday I’d visit the house with the best tostadas or tacos de carnitas. For me, the food was a huge part of the posadas.”

On his favorite elements of Mexico City cuisine: “Mexico City is more about street food than formal dining; little snacks that workers can pick up and eat any time of the day. Like tacos, quesadillas – just bites that are layered with flavor. I love simple dishes like that and every day I try to show that foods like enchiladas, sopes, tortas and tacos really do epitomize the cuisine I love so much.”

On his all-time favorite ingredient: “I love chiles – so much that I even have a little garden of chiles in the back of Fuego. I have habaneros, serranos, chipotle, chile de arbol and guajillo chiles growing there. The different variety of peppers serves as my inspiration and I use some type of chile in almost everything I make.”

On the dish he can never make as well as mom: “I don’t know exactly what it is, but my mother’s carnitas are fantastic. She must have a secret – and to be honest, I think it’s the fresh manteca (fat) from the pig she uses to cook the carnitas. The flavoring itself is easy – just salt, bay leaves, orange juice, lemon juice, garlic and evaporated milk but I think when it comes down to it, the manteca must really make a difference in the final product.”

On his fantasy last meal: “Mole poblano is by far, one of my favorite dishes. I’d have it in the real, Mexican style: cooked for 20 hours and served with pavo (turkey). It’s so delicious.”

On the five ingredients he can’t live without: “Salt, pepper, cilantro, garlic and any type of pepper, whether it’s habanero or poblano. Mexican food is all about building flavors, and with those essentials you can do exactly that. And I can’t live without love – it makes everything taste better.”

An item on his bucket list, revealed: “I want to have my own restaurant someday. Nothing fancy – I just want to do tacos and tortas in an atmosphere that’s comfortable. I love that kind of food. But I also love sushi – so maybe if I do open my own restaurant one day, I would feature tacos and sushi on the menu!”

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