“It’s hard for me to talk about myself,” Chef Danny Mena admits. He just released his first cookbook, Made in Mexico after five years of working on the project. He’s taken multiple trips to his hometown of Mexico City and done all kinds of recipe testing. Now, seeing the book in print is a “surreal feeling.”
Mena is the chef owner of La Loncheria, a Mexican spot on Wilson Avenue which opened in 2017. Two years in, the casual restaurant and bar is known for its tortas, tacos and drinks. He also owned the now-shuttered Hecho en Dumbo restaurant. Several dishes on La Loncheria’s menu can be found in the cookbook, including the caesar salad, the black beans, guacamole, costra tacos and the mole enchiladas.
Made in Mexico is a love letter to Mexico City, including specific restaurants like Ojo de Agua and La Nacional. Mena took care to include smaller stands and taquerias in the city’s less touristy and trendy neighborhoods (it’s not a book about just La Condesa or La Roma, he assures). There’s even a map to visit all the spots.
Some of the 80+ recipes are photographed while others are paired with street shots to add a sense of place. He says photography trips involved visiting 30 restaurants a day and the team often struggled to finish all the food. A dish that wasn’t photographed is chicachones in salsa verde, which Mena calls one of the ugliest dishes of all time (he loves it).
Made in Mexico’s publisher, Rizzoli, often publishes art books and that sensibility comes across in the layout. To him, the best cookbooks inspire while offering a few great recipes you want to try.
Mena is a collector of cookbooks, he even has cookbooks from 1915 in Mexico, which reflect the French imperial influence of the time and include recipes for foods like consomme. “Mexico is an amalgamation of so many influences,” he says.
His book aims to bring the recipes inspired by his favorite restaurants to the home cook (there’s no recipe for al pastor, for example, because no one has a trompo in their kitchen.) To bring the book to life, Mena worked with author Nils Bernstein, who spends more than half the year in Mexico.
To make sure the recipes worked, he worked with testers who were less experienced in the kitchen, “because when it’s my recipe, I already know how to make it.” Since he moved to Brooklyn 15 years ago, Mexican ingredients have become more and more widely available. For the restaurants, he works with a Mexican food distributor and used to shop at Essex Market. Calling for hoja santa isn’t the dealbreaker it once might have been (You can’t substitute hoja santa or poblanos, Mena insists).
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