I will never forget the evening when I had an opportunity to sit with Jorge Leon in person and hear his story. From the second he entered the room, I felt as if I had known him for years. He walked with youthful confidence, and I couldn’t help but notice that there were no signs of the cockiness that many demonstrate after achieving such success at an early age. Only a quiet self-assurance. His gentle smile and warm demeanor quickly made me feel at home. That’s when it clicked.
We had met a couple of years ago when he gave me a tour of his kitchen at Pujol. I felt somehow that the stars had aligned on this night and I was grateful that we would be able to sit down and catch up.
I immediately pulled up the picture of us in the kitchen at Pujol and was amazed to see that it doesn’t even look like he aged a day.
Sure, he may have been a little tired and was likely ready to relax, but that’s to be expected after a full day of service.
To break the ice, Chef Jorge Leon brought out a jug of his house mezcal. The smoky, yet refined, liquid warmed every bit of my being. He must have seen my enjoyment while I savored it with my eyes closed.
I remember even releasing a tiny sound of pleasure before he quickly added,
“La Locura. His name is Lalo, so he named it after himself.”
He was referring to Eduardo Angeles Carreno, a fourth-generation master distiller.
A little embarrassed I gestured “Provecho” and took another sip.
Less than a decade ago, Jorge Leon (also known as “Moles”) started working as a dishwasher at Casa Oaxaca, one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca. Jorge worked his way up and was eventually offered a position at a prestigious Mexico City restaurant called Pujol, where he would work alongside Chef Enrique Olvera.
Once at Pujol, he proudly shared his family recipe for Mole Negro after the chefs received an abundant order of Chilhuacle chiles. The mole he prepared with these chiles is now known as the legendary Mole Madre at Pujol, which resulted in him earning the nickname of “Moles.”
Interview with Chef Jorge Leon
Below are excerpts from our conversations that evening.
Rosie: Pujol – Mole Madre. How did your idea come to life?
“Ricardo Munoz and Enrique were looking for a traditional plate from Oaxaca. You can’t get more traditional than Mole is because it’s a staple dish for every special occasion. Whether it is served at a wedding, a funeral, or the birth of your child, you will celebrate these events with Mole.”
“We prepare the ingredients, turn them into a paste, and keep it in our refrigerators. We warm it up, add more ingredients. Traditionally you add stock, however, this Pujol’s mole is vegan. That’s why it never spoils. Chef Enrique is always changing and evolving.”
Rosie: How long did you work with Enrique Olvera before branching out on your own?
“Originally, when I was offered a job with Enrique Olvera and agreed to go to work at Pujol in Mexico City, my intent was to stay for one year, save some money, and come back home. However, I ended up staying six years.”
Rosie: What happened? What made you stay longer?
“I went to New York to open Cosme and stayed there for 4 months. When I returned, I was transferred to Los Cabos where I worked Manta for another four months. Then in CDMX, we opened El Molino. I was helping with research and development and recipes,” Jorge said with a big grin.
During the course of our conversation, Jorge also shared that he had every intention of one day coming home and making a name for himself. While working for the Olvera group, Jorge was sending money home and the family continued designing, developing, and expanding into what Alfonsina is today.
“We had a small area where my mother served breakfast and tortillas to the community. We wanted to make it more comfortable for everyone, especially our friends. See there?” He said while pointing to what is now a little bed and breakfast.
“That used to be a small cornfield,” he adds humbly as he pours another round of mezcal. He continues discussing his journey while music played in the background, adding a sweet notion to his narrative.
“While I was working, I was sending money home and getting this project going. This area was a cornfield,” he repeats his words quietly, as he seemed to collect his thoughts with a warm smile.
“We wanted to make this place comfortable for our community that dined with us, and for those who travel from all over the world to visit us. I had just returned home and started this concept of going to the market and cooking what we bought daily. That same year, New Worlder recognized us as Best Restaurant, after that it seemed that Alfonsina would become an overnight success.”
“It’s so close to the airport that you can stop here on your way to Centro. Sure, I thought it is off the beaten path, sure. That is until New Worlder put us on the map.”
Rosie: Tell me. What makes Alfonsina different?
“Alfonsina is a family restaurant operated by my mom, siblings, cousins, and a cook from our old town. A lot of our customers now are people that are traveling foodies, but 20% of our business are locals that live here in the community.”
“Oaxaca is the most traveled state for a culinary experience. Every restaurant has its own style. Casa Oaxaca has its own concept, each restaurant has its own concept. Pitonia is a modern kitchen. As for me, I have my own style of cooking. I like to call it “Cocina de Mercado” in which we are changing our menu daily depending on what is available to us by our local farmers at the Mercado.”
“Today we served pulque, corn, cauliflower, and squash blossoms. The textures and flavors represent this part of Mexico. These products are the beautiful bounty Oaxaca has to offer. We have the privilege of having a port where we can get fresh fish and shrimp. We also like to utilize dried shrimp to flavor our dishes. Yogurt, pitaya, and gelatin. Simple!”
“It’s the product. The diversity that we have. We need to explore more, investigate where it comes from, do more with it. I enjoy farming and cooking. I have worked in both worlds.”
“In Los Cabos, I was able to work with products from that area. I was proud to be amongst the few chefs that sourced local products instead of importing them from somewhere else. It’s the same here.”
Rosie: What do you like eating when you are home and not working?
“What do I like eating when I come home? A memelita with queso fresco, quesillo, and fresh beans. What makes a plate elegant is the quality of the product.”
Rosie: What mercado do you shop?
“Central de Abastos. It’s more practical. You can go there and get ingredients from every region.”
“Lately I must go every day depending on my reservations. We change the menu daily depending on what is available to us.”
“Now that service is done and we are closed, we will check tomorrow’s reservations. In the morning I will go to the market and gather our ingredients for the daily menu.”
Rosie: How do you stay inspired?
“Remembering the places that I worked and where I came from keeps me inspired. Those restaurants were the equivalent of a cooking school. We knew that when Enrique came to visit, we needed to think outside the box and create dishes for home. He taught us different techniques and how the flavors could work together. It is difficult and beautiful at the same time while using these ingredients. We want it to be an incredible experience for our guests.”
Whatever you are cooking depends on you, but in a kitchen, we all depend on each other.Chef Jorge Leon
Address: C. García Vigil 183, 71232 San Juan Bautista la Raya, Oax., Mexico
Phone: +52 81 8181 9859