In our Chef Spotlight Series, we were able to catch up with Israel Alvarez Molina, the Chef behind the insanely delicious corn tortillas that are Maiiz Nixtamal. Israel grew up with an appreciation for fresh, high-quality food visiting markets with his mother and grandmother. From there, at 19, he completed a two-year program at the Centro Universitario de Artes Culinarias, in Mexico City and continued that training in Spain at the Centro Superior de Hosteleria de Galicia. After his four-year education, he was Chef de Cuisine at Pujol Mexico City until life brought him to Vancouver Island to make the tortillas he’s loved his whole life!
If there are three ingredients that you couldn’t live without, what would they be?
Corn, beans, and chiles!
What is your favourite food to have someone else make for you?
Lamb Barbacoa. The lamb barbacoa tacos at El Hidalguense in Mexico City are amazing
What season gets you most excited for cooking?
Cooking during winter makes me happy. The challenge of working with more limited ingredients means I get to focus on creating delicious and deceptively simple comfort foods like tamales.
What would you do for a job if you weren’t a chef?
I love the idea of being a pilot, especially a helicopter pilot! Just seeing the world from up in the sky sounds so exciting. Exploring design would be very interesting to me as well; I enjoy working with colour, shapes, and visual storytelling.
What are your passions and interests outside of cooking?
When I have the time to indulge, I really love rock climbing! The water also calls to me, so when the weather warms up I love to go swimming and boogie boarding.
What plans do you have for the future? What are your professional goals?
Expanding people’s knowledge about the cultural and nutritional importance as well as the process of nixtamal. Corn is central, but it’s about so much more than that. I’d like to get back into hosting workshops and cooking classes in the future as well.
Can you share a great food memory?
Eating Galician octopus at Pablo Gallego (@pablogallegorestaurante) in Spain. I worked there years ago and it was one of the first dishes I was taught to make. I still get goosebumps thinking about it! There are only a few ingredients but the flavour and texture are just beautiful.
What is your favourite unsung ingredient that you think more people should cook with?
Hominy corn! It’s the nixtamalized corn kernel in its whole form which is very nutritious and is an excellent way to fill out soups and stews. It puffs up like popcorn when it’s cooked in soups like Pozole so kids like it too.
What is your most embarrassing cooking moment?
Must we think about this! Well, and this is very embarrassing, I was teaching a cooking class in Edmonton and finished the class off by talking about the importance of keeping knives clean and how to handle them safely so of course as the class is on their way out and we’re saying our good-byes I wipe my knife down and…cut my hand in the process. I wrapped my hand and put it in my pocket very quickly and hoped no one noticed!
If you could cook a dish for anyone alive or dead, who would you cook for and what would you make?
I would make mole for my abuela (grandmother) with her recipe. Sharing that with her would mean so much to me, especially since she passed before I had even considered a future in food. Her mole will always be the best.
What do you love most about your community?
Victoria has been so supportive of me and my goals of producing a really great quality product. Having other chefs in town use my tortillas on their menus means so much to me. The familiar faces who come into MAiiZ time and again, as well as all the new people I get to meet. It feels really good to have people as excited about what I’m building here as I am.
Recipe: Pozole soup
Pozole soup is a traditional Mexican dish with red green and white varieties. This recipe is for a Pozole Rojas (use any meat base you like, or use a vegetarian broth) and top with traditional garnishes such as shredded cabbage, radishes, onions, avocado, and limes. It is prepared as a day-to-day meal or as a festive dish.
• 1 dried Ancho pepper
• 1 dried Guajillo pepper
• 2-4 dried Arbol pepper
• 2-4 dried Avocado leaves
• ½ tbsp dried Mexican Oregano
• 1 lb Nixtamal Hominy Corn
• 1 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1 lb boneless pork shoulder or chuck roll or brisket cut into cubes, leftover turkey or chicken thighs
• ½ medium white onion, peeled and diced
• 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
• 3–4 cups chicken stock (or stock of choice)
• ½ tbsp toasted ground cumin
Optional toppings: chopped fresh cilantro, crumbled cotija cheese, diced avocado, fresh lime juice, shredded lettuce, shredded cabbage, and thinly-sliced radishes.
1. To make the broth start by preheating a skillet to medium high heat, toast peppers for 10- 20 seconds. Remove and discard the stems and seeds from the peppers, cover completely with boiling water and soak for 10 minutes.
2. Transfer peppers to a blender with 2 cups fresh water and puree until completely smooth, set aside.
*Note: if you would like a less spicy pozole soup, use less peppers, add a little of the puree at a time and taste as you go
3. Heat half the oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the meat and sear until all sides are browned, set aside.
4. Add the remaining oil to the stockpot. Next add the diced onion, and saute for 4-5 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic, then saute for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
5. Add in the chicken (or other) stock, hominy, avocado leaves, cumin, oregano, seared meat, and the pepper mixture. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium-low so that the soup is just barely simmering, cover partially, and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and shreds easily.
6. Once the meat is tender remove it and shred it into bite-sized pieces using two forks. You can also remove the avocado leaves at this point. Return the meat to the soup and stir. Also, if you’d like a thinner broth, add in an extra cup or two of stock to thin it out. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve warm with your desired toppings. Or transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.