Kori Sutton Reveals What Americans Get Wrong About Mexican Food - Exclusive

Chef Kori Sutton is uniquely well-positioned to comment on American misconceptions about Mexican cooking and the realities of the cuisine. That's because Sutton was raised in Mexico, yet was born in Los Angeles.

In her teenage years, Sutton moved to Puerto Vallarta, a city on Mexico's central Pacific coast, where she became so deeply steeped in Mexican culture and cuisine, the chef was invited to appear on the show "Top Chef: Mexico," an offer she almost rejected (via Voyage LA). "'Top Chef: Mexico' was a huge honor to even be invited, because it was supposed to be all national Mexican chefs from Mexico in Mexico," Sutton told Mashed during an exclusive interview. "And when I got called upon it, I honestly thought it was a joke. ... And I was like: 'I'm not Mexican, I'm American.' And they're like: 'No, you've been in Mexico so long. Your whole career is in Mexico. So we consider you part of the Mexican chef elite.'"

And what does this chef wish more Americans knew about Mexican food? "It's not all heavy cheeses and sauces. Mexican food is very light and flavorful and very refreshing. It's just from meats to veggies, to seafoods, to cheeses. I mean, it's just a huge plethora of amazing vegetables and fruits and flavors, [and] freshness more than anything," Sutton explained. Cooking in Mexico has humbled Sutton and opened her eyes. "We don't always have grocery stores. We don't always have Gelson's and Postmates and Instacart," she explained. "So being able to see all that and realizing that you basically work with what you have at whatever moment, it just kind of opened my eyes even more to how to be always creative and always on your toes."

In Mexican cooking, region and season define the flavors, says Kori Sutton

The average American consumer is used to having the same foods available 24/7, 365. We tend to take it for granted that the restaurant down the street will offer many of the same dishes in June as it does in January. We expect fresh oranges and apples and bananas in the grocery store produce section regardless of whether it's April or August. 

In Mexican cooking, things are different. The cuisine is tied more intimately to place and season, and what is found in the markets or served for dinner one month may be very different the next. And that's a good thing, according to chef Kori Sutton. "It's funny saying '[Mexican food]' because Mexico has so many different regions. For instance, the Northern reason uses a lot of meat, it's heavy [in] beef, cattle, goat. So they're very meat-heavy. ...And then [in] the inland parts of Mexico, you get a lot of vegetables, a lot of game, a lot of moles and sauces. And then the coastal strips, it's all seafood. So you get an amazing array of fruits, vegetables, meats."

Sutton also stresses that in Mexican cooking (as in many fine cuisines), sometimes less is more. "Living in Mexico, I [saw] how simple ingredients were and how much flavor was put into [dishes] with spices and herbs. And then also being able to see the fresh fish from the fishermen, from the actual ocean, flopping in front of their boat. And you're sitting there, and they're selling it. And you're eating it fresh."

Keep tabs on Kori Sutton's culinary creations by following her on Instagram. Be sure to check out her new salsa line, Mama Kori Salsa.