While Hernández is a fairly common last name in Mexico, Héctor has a unique profile that’s almost impossible to replicate.
On one hand, his profession as a quantum physics researcher allows him to live in a parallel and abstract world that only those of his nature can enter. They have their own language, their particular way of comprehending the world, and above all, they work under laws that don’t correspond to classic physics, namely, those of the quantum world. It would be fascinating for us to be able to play around with some of them for a few minutes, like for example — and please excuse the simplification here, physics gentlemen — being able to be in two locations at once. How risky!
On the other hand, his passion for mezcal and his gifted and refined palate have brought him to work with a select collection that’s only getting bigger. He doesn’t need to label each one of his many bottles, since only by smelling the interior, he can identify which mezcal he’s dealing with. Unfortunately, the fierce commercialization of said beverage has led to the sale of mediocre mezcals at elevated prices, and the good ones sometimes have prohibitively high costs that are a far cry from respecting fair commerce.
Friends, acquaintances and strangers turn to him in search of guidance, of a good bottle, or simply because they want to pass hours absorbing his sarcasm and good conversation.
It goes without saying which product is always at his disposal. Literally. We spent an afternoon with him and took advantage of the occasion to ask him some questions for Plateselector.
Despite it being a common location and always being full of vagabonds of suspicious origin, I think I’d have to choose Contramar, in Mexico City. The quality of their raw ingredients and the attention from the staff are so good, year after year, that every visit to the restaurant is a sure success…as long as there’s room. I prefer the bar, and looking at the wall, and I prefer to get something fresh and quick (to escape in case it becomes necessary): the classic tuna tostadas and the small strips of fish in the Zihuatanejo style, although in season, I’m partial to taking my time to eat their version of chile en nogada.
I’m incapable of choosing just one, but I can think of three: the red pozole soup my paternal grandmother used to make (the best in the world), the birria stew outside of the Jalisco stadium, in Guadalajara, and the zarandeado-style fish from “El chino” Ismael in Las Islitas, near La Tovara, in Nayarit.
At one point it was tea, then wine, coffee, and recently honey. Ice cream has always been up there. I particularly like Lapsang suchong, almost any coffee from Italy, honey made from avocado flowers, and chocolate ice cream.
Mezcal, without a doubt. Each sip of mezcal is a subtle journey, delicious and complex, to some isolated community in the country; a trip through their dry and low mountains and their intense sun, a trip to simple kitchens and the open air of mezcal-producing families, generous and poor, a trip under the rain, that tastes of earth, of smoke, of flowers and of wisdom.
If you were to invite us to your house, what would you cook?
I suppose it depends on the period in which you find me. I tend to experiment, and to be honest, my experiments don’t always end well. At one point, I only cooked fish and seafood: sea bass in the oven with green curry, sierra and bream cured with fennel and earl gray (an absolute failure), salmon with miso and honey on the coals, northern red snapper and shrimp prepared zarandeado-style (a partial failure because you can never get close to the ones in Nayarit), Gallician octopus, on the coals and in ceviche with mango (a decent attempt). At another point, I only cooked things with bolognese sauce (and my girlfriend — full-blooded Italian — teased me): lasagna, spaghetti, eggplant parmesan (no comment). Also I’ve had a more carnivorous period: a filet of beef, salted and prepared al trapo, lamb ribs with oven-baked oregano, cow tongue in green salsa (the best results have been the least elaborate).
Text y photos: Livia Arroyo