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Q & A with Julian Medina

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Headshot_Julian_Best.pngChef Julian Medina has changed the way we think and eat Mexican food in New York.   Born and raised in Mexico City, Medina mastered the art of Mexican cooking at Hacienda de los Morales in Mexico City before moving to the kitchen of Los Celebrites to immerse himself in French technique and ingredients.  And that was just the beginning.   Medina moved to the United States, where he worked as the executive chef for Sushi Samba and Zocalo.  Upon teaming up with Richard Sandoval, Medina successfully elevated Mexican cooking to a haute plane at both Maya and Pampano

These days, he’s busy building his own little empire, which includes Toalache and his newest pan-Latin venture, Yerba Buena.   At Yerba Buena, Julian Medina offers a light, sophisticated spin on Latin cooking with a “Cuban Pizza,”a tortilla topped with ham, pork, swiss cheese and pickles or a spinach and manchego empanadas served with a fresh fig salad.


What did you want to be when you grew up?
Professional soccer player.

What was your first job in food, and what did you learn?
I worked in high school at a chain pizza place called Tele Pizza from Spain. I learned how to make quince paste and manchego cheese pizza for dessert.

What’s your opinion on the various Mexican restaurants and taquerias throughout the city?
I think the rise in popularity is exciting. I enjoy seeing what other chefs are doing. It keeps us on our toes!

Where did you get the inspiration for your new restaurant Yerba Buena? How does it differ from Toloache?
Yerba Buena is Cocina Latina, from Peru, Argentina, Cuba and Mexico, so you’ll find strong and authentic flavors. Toloache is my interpretation of a Mexican Bistro using traditional ingredients and lots of chiles.

Your menus have a taste for the exotic and international – where does your interest in these products stem from? Where have you traveled?
I worked at Sushi Samba for a while, where I learned how to use a lot of Japanese techniques and ingredients as well as from Peru and Brazil. I love to travel but I think the major influence on my cooking is from France. I cooked in Mexico City for a French restaurant and travel to Paris where I get a lot of ideas.

What has sparked the creation of such dishes as your “Pizza Cubano”?
I love Cuban sandwiches, but I wanted to create something different. People these days want to eat light so the ingredients of a Cuban sandwich on a flour tortilla is lighter yet satisfies.

How do you strive to compliment the cocktails of Barman Artemio Vasquez?
We talk a lot when I bring a new ingredient into the restaurant or he does.  We test out different flavors, combinations and textures often. I think the cocktails balance the food very well.

What do you find especially intriguing about your restaurant’s signature herb, yerba buena?
Yerba Buena, or “Good herb,” is a type of mint that is not often utilized in American cuisine. It’s a variety of mint found mainly in Latin America that I have discovered to be a zesty addition to my kitchen.

What dishes are essential for a Mexican chef to master?

What dishes are essential for a Mexican chef to master?
Mole. Learning how to cook with chiles is very hard but when you learn how, it is really beneficial because they can be used in all international cooking.

Why did you choose the East Village as your location for Yerba Buena?
I think the concept goes very well with the neighborhood. It’s a fun place that is open late and people love new ideas and adventure.

How are the kitchens different in Mexico City than the ones in New York?
In Mexico City kitchens are huge, you have 20 assistants, and the staff has more room to work.

Do you use organic or local products in your cooking?
I try to use organic meats, produce, and wild fish whenever I can.

Tell us about your Rosh Hashanah menu, and where you got the inspiration to create such a feast?
I try to cook something different for all holidays. Mexican spices inspire me. I take a traditional holiday dish and add my Mexican twist.

What’s your favorite dish on the menu at Yerba Buena?
Picada, fried pork belly, yucca, plantain and chorizo, then the Pizza Cubana.

What’s your least favorite (and yes, you must pick one)?
Papa Rellena, potato croquette filled with mushrooms and a jalapeño truffle sauce

What culinary trends do you embrace?
I follow my own intuition.

Which culinary trends do you wish would just die already?

Southeast Asian street food.

Do you have a favorite junk food?
Nachos and chicken wings… yum

Anything on the horizon? Spill the beans….
I have a new exciting project in the works, I will let you know…

Address: 23 Avenue A at 2nd Street
Phone: (212) 529-2919        

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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One Comment

  1. Has Julian published a Mexian-Jewish cookbook.
    If not, is he planning one?

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