In The Kitchen with Diana Davila

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“We do nothing but bangers,” says chef Diana Davila, owner (with husband Joseph Boldin) of Mi Tocaya in Chicago. “We are an antojeria which means we serve antojos, food that you crave. It’s almost like a greatest hits with nostalgic food and flavours.”

Diana’s personal story is threaded through her restaurant. There’s the influence of her parents’ American taquerias: “They were entrepreneurs rather than opening something to showcase their culture and heritage,” she says. There’s the lore of her relatives, both in the US and Mexico. “My aunt would always go to the market, she’d be tasting, asking women how you make that salsa, what did you put in it…it’s how I’ve learnt.”

“I get to be all that I am, in touch with the ancestry, the heart and soul of the food. There’s so much history in everything.”

There’s a scholarly approach too. “I was reading cookbooks from a young age, always that curiosity,” she says. And there’s her training as a chef in European kitchens. “I’ve never worked at a Mexican restaurant, I’ve always learnt European structure,” says Diana.

Mi Tocaya - opened in 2017 - means ‘my namesake’. “She’s my alter ego, combining the chef I always wanted to be with the mother I am, the woman I am,” says Diana. “I get to be all that I am, in touch with the ancestry, the heart and soul of the food. There’s so much history in everything.”

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Even though her parents owned taquerias, and food was at the centre of family life, becoming a chef wasn’t an obvious path. “I knew I loved food but I was the only one in my high school that became a chef,” says Diana. “For me it was like being an artist, to taste, to see, the experience of being in a restaurant, the theatrics of it.” Her approach changed after she became a mother. “When my children were born, everything became much more intuitive. I was a bruja - a witch - in touch with my feelings. It gave me a new understanding. They call it ‘mother nature’ for a reason.”

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Diana Davila connects particularly with the feminine in Mexican culinary culture. “I pay homage to the women who have created Mexican cuisine,” she says. “If you ask a Mexican where to go for good food, they’ll always say ‘my aunt’s house, my grandmother’s house’ as opposed to the name of a restaurant. By and large, it’s women at the centre.”

This idea of a bruja - a benign, spiritual being in touch with invisible forces - is key to Diana Davila’s approach. “Food is magic,” she says. “It’s medicine, it’s nurturing. I always treat ingredients like that. At Mi Tocaya, I don’t feel so much like a chef, I embrace almost another graduation of being.”

See Diana Davila’s recipes for Carne Asada Steak Burrito and Tuetano Con Sabores De Caldo De Res on our site.

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