Oaxaca Kitchen in New Haven, CT | Southern Comfort
When Rojas moved away from Connecticut last summer, Prasad knew he would once again turn to a home cook for inspiration. Margarita Hernandez came to him through her son Julio, who works in Thali’s kitchen. A Puebla native, she, too, lacked professional cooking experience, but her “audition” meal in Chirnomula’s home blew him away. Days later, he invited her to share the stage at one of the private classes he occasionally offers at the restaurant, and soon after, she was on the line, preparing food at Oaxaca Kitchen.Within days, the two were feeling like old friends. He calls her “Mama”; she calls him “Boss.” And although her English is limited, they work together seamlessly. She prepares a dish her way; then he makes suggestions. “There’s a mutual respect between two professionals,” Chirnomula says. “And actually, I’m learning from her. There’s a lot I know—but there’s a lot I’m willing to learn. And I have the patience to see what she does first.”
Hernandez arrives many mornings at 6:00, making salsas and moles, tamales and pozole. She carries with her a weathered notebook containing her family’s “secreto” recipes—recipes she now makes at Oaxaca Kitchen. Her sauces have already been featured as specials, and Chirnomula plans to integrate them into a new menu.
All three women—Beatriz Molina-López, Aracely Rojas, and Margarita Hernandez—have shared with Chirnomula the food they learned from their mothers and grandmothers. And in his willingness to embrace home cooking, rather than wall it off from the traditionally masculine world of the professional kitchen, Chirnomula has found the one ingredient that he considers most essential in all his food: “real love.”
The following recipes are streamlined adaptations of the versions served at Oaxaca Kitchen. They’re simple, delicious, and reworked with home cooks in mind.
Oaxaca Kitchen, 228 College St., New Haven, CT. 203-859-5774; oaxacakitchen.com