In this latest episode of the Na Slovensku Aj Po Anglicky podcast, hosts Jeremy Hill and Annel Bautista explore the topic of reinvention through the story of one Mexican entrepreneur.
Chef Navarro's vision for creating an authentic and delicious Mexican restaurant is, on its surface, quite simple—use quality ingredients, and stay true to your roots. However, bringing this to fruition, much like his journey to the kitchens of Slovakia, has been anything but simple. His path has been full of false starts and unfortunate timing, but he remains undaunted.
Becoming a professional chef was not something this Mexico City native envisioned for himself after finishing high school, but fate steered him toward a culinary school fair that presented him with an intriguing career path. He enrolled immediately, to the great surprise of his parents. At twenty-two years old, Brian finally found his calling; so he set out to make a name for himself.
To Texas and beyond
Toward the end of culinary school, chef Navarro found another opportunity at another fair. This one led him out of the country, for the first time, and into a fine dining restaurant in Texas. The experience shaped his sense of a work/life balance and his vision for a restaurant with uncompromisable standards.
After two years, chef Navarro craved more experience and a new direction, so he found work in Abu Dabi and then again in America; all the while he took notes and dreamed of his own restaurant. It was during this latest stint in America that he found the love of his life and the reason for moving to Slovakia. He fell hard for a Slovak girl who enticed him to use his knowledge and experience to bring his dreams of authentic Mexican food to central Europe.
An unfortunately timed entrance
Robert Burns once wrote, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” This is the sad reality Slovakia woke up to in March 2020. After two months of living in the country, Brian was already getting on his feet and working. It wasn't a great job (his absent Slovak skills prevented him from landing the most coveted chef jobs in Bratislava), and it was, unfortunately, quite temporary.
As restaurants closed across the country, Brian suddenly found himself unemployed and lost. Sadly, the pandemic hit food service workers especially hard.
This was indeed a difficult start, but Brian persevered. He enrolled in some cooking courses to keep his mind sharp and ready for when an opportunity arose. From there he helped open a restaurant that eventually became a casualty of the second Covid wave. Nevertheless, in that brief time, Chef Navarro was able to educate himself about where to source the ingredients he would eventually need. It was in his next job that he found a partner and the encouragement he needed to start his own dream restaurant.
Same sopa, different bowl
Finally, in early 2022, Chef Navarro, along with his new Mexican and Slovak partners, opened Mezcalli. This is the restaurant he dreamed of for so long. Here he can flex his creative muscles while staying true to the food traditions from his childhood. This is the food he wants to eat, but Brian also knows his clientele.
Mexican food is still mostly unknown to the average Slovak; so Chef Navarro has set out to educate the public on what this food is and is not. He has to contend with stereotypes about Mexican food being excessively spicy or obscenely exotic: so, ever so gently, he corrects the record. Brian tries to help people spot the difference between real Mexican food and Mexican/American food; and while he's at it, he explains that there is no such thing as “Mexican bowls” in the cuisine.
While some of these misconceptions surprise Chef Navarro, he is never deterred from his mission of bringing a new authentic Mexican experience to Bratislava, and he accomplishes all of this with great skill and panache (his Instagram documents this all quite beautifully). While Brian has had to adapt and reinvent himself to survive in each new environment in which he finds himself, he never strays far from his vision of being an ambassador for his beloved culture and cuisine. This is the love you find in every dish at Mezcalli.