For Julieta Ballesteros, cooking is more than just making delicious food for her guests; it is turning her food into an art masterpiece. So it is no surprise that as a child, she dreamed of becoming a chef or an artist. Creating delectable Mexican dishes into art? Leave that to Ballesteros.
Additionally, she consults for restaurants such as MxCo, and Los Feliz, a Mexican taqueria and tequileria located on the Lower East Side offering a menu inspired by street-fare, creating a modern Mexican dining experience through the use of fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her many projects are just the beginning of a journey to change New Yorker’s perceptions of Mexican cuisine.
She went into the kitchen to develop Mexican-street food for this casual spot, offering diners familiar Mexican courses including ceviches, quesadillas and tacos with often- unfamiliar elements.
In developing her menus, Ballesteros ranges from the traditional “huitlacoche” or Mexican black truffle in quesadillas and soups to the exotic use of hibiscus flower in tacos where she demonstrates her ability to add bold, rustic flavors to stereotypical Mexican dishes. Ballesteros, however, doesn’t stray too far from traditional Mexican ingredients, incorporating hoja santa, an aromatic herb often used in traditional cuisine, in the Callo de Hacha tacos. Her training, in addition to her roots to Mexico, combine to form her elegant yet hearty cuisine. Ballesteros’s techniques along with presentation and flavor make her dishes as stunningly visual as they are delicious.
Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Ballesteros was always in the kitchen eager to help prepare the family meal. Inspired by her grandmother’s love of food and cooking, she soaked in as much as could by watching and then secretly mimicked what she saw when no one was looking. This appreciation coupled with her mother’s passion for art and painting left Ballesteros yearning to bring together a love for food and art on one plate.
“Cooking for me requires an artistic element, bringing together the colors, textures and flavors of the dish because eating should be a visual and sensual experience,” says Ballesteros. “This is how I express myself, through the art of cooking and I hope people can see Mexican cuisine as beautiful.”
Ballesteros embarked on her culinary career by enrolling at the famed French Culinary Institute in 1998. She went on to become the Executive Chef of Mexicana Mama where she launched and soon earned the highest ranking for Mexican cuisine for food in Zagat Survey history, earning a 26 out of 30 in 2005. Ballesteros’s successful run led her to open Crema restaurant.
Ballesteros has won several awards, including the Ministry of Agriculture of Mexico, Best of Citysearch 2007 and the Sabores Autenticos de Mexico. She has also been hailed by The New York Times as "a chef to watch," Zagat's #1 Mexican Chef in New York and has been a consulting chef for Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares. Ballesteros is affiliated with the Mexican Consulate and the French Culinary Institute Jurist.
Today, Ballesteros is living in New York City with her two dogs. She may be an accomplished chef so far, but she is looking to make a greater impact with Mexican cuisine.
“There are three principles I follow for success: discipline, desire and dedication. It’s how I apply myself to my cooking and it is my motivation to improve my skills because I want to see Mexico revered in the culinary scene.”