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Regino Hernandez has worked at El Encanto for the last 14 years. Below is a question and answer between Regino and a writer from Phoenix Magazine.

1. Who or what has influenced you the most in your cooking style?

My grandfather was a fisherman - and we all had to work in the business. I grew up near the Pacific Ocean in Mazatlan (Sinaloa Region of Mexico). We had 4 small boats that we pushed through the canal rivers with big sticks and we used nets to catch shrimp and small fish. We caught mostly to sell, but it was what we lived off of. We picked the best and took those to the market (Mercado). The rest we would clean and cook using our family's recipes that were handed down from older generations or just made them from ingredients we had in the kitchen.

My father also had a farm - with horses and pigs, we also had to kill and prepare these for sale and used the remaining products in our home cooking.

I cooked in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother. We cooked the shrimp ajo style (sautéed with garlic and vegetables) or whole fish fried in the pan with spicy tomato salsa, or we made fresh tamales. We also sold those at the market. We set up small kitchens for local events, where we made and sold shrimp ceviche, shrimp and octopus cocktail (campechana), and the shrimp tamales.

Many recipes on the menu and the specials come from these cooking experiences at home. I modify some of them to address what the Nelson's are looking for or to make them more palatable to Americans, but often we are serving recipes that are identical to those we made in Mazatlan. Our Carnitas recipe (as served in our Street Tacos and our Carnitas Poblano Relleno) are straight from my family's recipes, as well as the Shrimp Tacos and the Roasted Jalapeno Rellenos.

I also learned a lot from the various chefs who have worked at El Encanto over the years. The first was Alfredo Salazar. He helped develop most of the sauce recipes that we have at El Encanto now. I improved my sauce making skills from him originally, but over the years, we have modified and perfected the sauces and how we make them. We use more fresh products now in all of the sauces. For example, in our green chile sauce, we used to use canned green chiles and now we roast fresh chiles from New Mexico to make the sauce. In the red chile, we use fresh chile paste that we make here in the restaurant. And, we removed lard from all the recipes, which took some adapting.

I feel very proud when the job I do is reflected in the customer's satisfaction. When I make something and I see that people like it, it makes me feel very proud.

All of them really, but I would have to start with the Pollo Fundido. It was on the original menu and it is still our most popular dish. I ate it everyday for years when I first started working here. The Vera Cruz sauce is now my favorite. It is a tomato sauce with onions, olives and yellow chile peppers. It originated in a town called Vera Cruz in Mexico. We serve it on our fresh grilled Sea Bass. It is amazing. And, I also love the Tequila Lime sauce for the shrimp recipe that I am making today, because I love garlic and it has fresh juices. The staff and customers love it.

2. Any changes to the menu in the coming year?

We just released a new menu this year. We added some of our most popular specials and a few items that we had on our cantina tapas menu. There is a Carnitas Poblana Relleno (a fresh roasted poblano chile, stuffed with our tender carnitas, and topped with our green chile sauce); Tequila Lime Shrimp; Shrimp Tacos ( lightly fried tortilla stuffed with shrimp and topped with shredded vegetables and crema fresca); Roasted Jalapeno Rellenos (an appetizer of four roasted jalapenos, stuffed with jack cheese and grilled chicken, then served with our Vera Cruz sauce; a Shrimp Botana (cold shrimp appetizer served with a light and spicy lemon jalapeno dressing, and we are doing a fresh seafood entrée every night that will be prepared simply with my choice of salsas on top, such as an avocado or mango salsa, depending on the fish we get in that day.

3. What is your food philosophy or what do you think makes a specific dish spectacular?

Cooking with real love for the cuisine you are working in and the food items that you are preparing. Preparing Mexican food is in my blood and I love the process of cooking with the ingredients traditionally used in Mexican cuisine. At El Encanto, I am able to buy the freshest ingredients and join the two together. That is what creates a great dish.

4. What is the most under-appreciated dish at El Encanto?

The Sea Bass Vera Cruz and the Chicken Mole. Mole is a sauce from Puebla, in South Central Mexico, a state where they make a lot of chocolate, an ingredient prevalent in Mole. Both sauces were developed originally in the kitchen by Alfredo. Again, we have modified them over the years, adding the freshest ingredients, but always maintaining their authenticity. Mole is an acquired taste, but ours is very authentic and delicious. And, I always thought that if anyone would try the Vera Cruz, they would be tasting the real flavors of Mexico.


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