Michael Beary of the Aspen restaurant Zocalito visits the Mexican state often to find—and revive—one of his favorite ingredients.
When Michael Beary opened Zocalito, his Oaxacan restaurant in Aspen, Colorado, more than 15 years ago, he quickly found that many of the ingredients he needed weren’t available in the United States. Even in Mexico, some heritage chiles—such as the achilito, which once featured prominently in many Oaxacan salsas—were nearly impossible to find. “They had become so rare, even local chefs were using generic substitutes,” Beary said.
So he started making trips to the remote Oaxacan valleys where the terroir lends these peppers their particular flavor.
“My project is to get to the farmers, so I can pay them what the middleman would take,” said Beary, who hopes his purchasing power can convince growers to keep producing traditional peppers. He imports chiles and other Oaxacan items like chapulines (grasshoppers) for his restaurant; in 2012 he launched an online store that makes them available to professional and home cooks around the world. Here, he shares his experiences.