Ignacio Leon, exec chef of Paxia and Los Carboncitos, on the wild rabbit, helping the homeless and Mexican food
And while the taquerias are authentically Mexican, Leon says the biggest surprise has been a white clientele that demands heat. "I was shocked when we opened our first location, because the gringos loved our salsas -- and they're really hot," he admits. Every location goes through eight gallons of each salsa per day, and they're all scratch-made using dried chiles that Leon sources from Mexico. "Our food is inexpensive," he says, "but it's incredibly fresh, we use high-quality ingredients, we make our own corn tortillas, we don't have a microwave, and there's a ton of color on the plate, because I love the colors of food." And nothing, he notes, comes out of a can.
His success with Los Carboncitos convinced him to open Paxia last year, and while the restaurant suffered growing pains, Leon says it's found its groove. "We opened Paxia because we wanted to do an upscale restaurant with higher-end, more refined dishes from Mexico, and it was a little tough at first, but it's getting better all the time, and the neighborhood has really embraced us." His employees are just as loyal: "Our kitchen staffs have been with us for a very long time, and when someone leaves, they always come back. We're family."
In the following interview, Leon talks about a meal in Mexico that's still unmatched, the chaos that ensued on the day that Paxia opened, why stupid people don't deserve to cook in his kitchen, and his reasons for feeding the homeless.
How do you describe your food? It's modern Mexican that's still representative of the traditional cuisine you would find in various regions of Mexico. This is real Mexican food, rooted in our family recipes and cultural traditions.
Ten words to describe you: Hard-working, perfectionist, organized, clean, ambitious, demanding, creative, knowledgeable, passionate and good-humored.
What are your ingredient obsessions? Milk and cream. I love combining those two ingredients to create rich sauces; I hate dry food. I also have a tendency to add spiciness to my dishes. I joke that I have to have a jalapeño or salsa with everything I eat; there has to be something to add heat. It kills my stomach, but I just can't avoid it.
What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? Knives are absolutely crucial, especially for presentation. A good knife makes all the difference when you're cutting fruit into shapes or cutting seafood. You need thin, sharp, flexible knives to cut those ingredients the correct way.
Favorite local ingredient and where you get it: Any kind of sprouts, from alfalfa to bean. I can work them into any kind of dish, and luckily, I can find them just about anywhere -- at Whole Foods, Sprouts, local farmers' markets and even King Soopers.