Tour de Stage Mexico City: Biko
Biko has been on the World’s 50 Best List every since its inception nine years ago. If you hear Chef Mikel Alonso’s perspective about how they arrived where they are, it almost sounds as though these accolades are an unintended consequence. But of course, everything at Biko is done with intention.
Chef Mikel enrolled in a chemical engineering program after finishing high school but soon realized he belonged in the kitchen. After years of cooking in Spain, he moved to Mexico where he has now been for nineteen years, allowing his culinary perspective to evolve while incorporating Mexico City’s identity.
For many years, Chef Mikel worked in close collaboration with Chef Juan Mari Arzak, one of the pioneers of “New Basque” cuisine in San Sebastian, Spain. When Chef Mikel decided to go in a different direction, he and his colleague Chef Bruno Oteiza opened Biko. The name is derived from the Basque word, “bikote,” which means “couple,” and reflects the collaboration not only between the two chefs but also the union of Basque and Mexican cuisine. Today, all three chefs running the restaurant operation, including Chef Gerard Bellver, have their origins in Basque country but have moved to Mexico early in their careers.
Chef Mikel describes himself as having of “French nationality, Spanish heart, and Mexican conviction.” Those are the exactly right words to describe the cuisine at Biko as well—French influence, Spanish heart, and strong Mexican conviction.
Chef Joseba Encabo, one of our instructors from The Culinary Institute of America who has been teaching and inspiring cooks for more than two decades in the U.S. and Mexico, is a good friend of Chef Mikel. Chef Encabo offered to reach out and pave the way for our arrival. We should have known how close the two chefs were—Spanish heart, Mexican conviction!
The food at Biko was fantastic. Working with and learning from the cooks, tasting new ingredients, and discovering the fusion of Basque and Mexican food was incredible. However, the perspective that Chef Mikel shared with us during our stage was what we will cherish forever. Recognizing that this trip was a pivotal moment in our careers, Chef generously sat down with us to share his wisdom.
“This is a product of collaboration,” he said. “We make all the decisions together. When an idea comes to the table we investigate it together, analyze it, and put it into action. Not one person is more important than the other one.” It’s a very different way to run a kitchen. Collaboration is very much a part of the restaurant’s identity.“ We don’t want to limit ourselves to a national cuisine,” Chef Mikel explained. “We want to allow our Mexican, Spanish, and global identities to come through in our dishes. Food is not just about ingredients and techniques but also identity. Without identity, you cannot innovate or create something unique.”
Broth of mushrooms, corn, and charred cornhusks, poured over charred baby corn, popcorn puree, and a meringue of sepia
Chef put a great emphasis on the experience of the diner. He said, no matter how good your food is, it all comes down to the overall experience. And this is not possible without the hospitality in the front of the house. He insisted that we experience “the full circle” experience at Biko. We spent a wonderful day and had one of the best meals of our lives there. At the end of our meal, as we were saying our goodbyes to Chef Gerard and Chef Mikel, we expressed how very inspiring to us that with their caring, comfortable and confident attitude, food this good is possible.
Huachinango, Pacific snapper, white chocolate sauce, tapioca, crispy lentils, and lentil broth
Jowl with a popcorn crust, spinach and herb purée, pimento gel, tamalito de Raclette
For more food photos, adventures and stories from the travels, visit Sayat and Laura’s instagram at @LauraAndSayat.