This Fierce Indigenous Chef Just Became The Only Mexicana On The Prestigious ’50 Next List’
Mexico’s only chef on this year’s ’50 Next’ list by the World’s 50 Best Group is an Indigenous woman hailing from the state of Chiapas. The 33-year-old Tzotzil chef is Claudia Albertina Ruiz Santíz who has worked for years promoting Indigenous culture and cuisine in her Kokono restaurant, located in the picturesque pueblo mágico of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Not only is she dedicated to promoting Indigenous culture through her food, but she’s also working to uplift and support her community. And now, as the World’s 50 Best names its very best of 2021, Albertina is getting the hard-earned recognition she deserves – and is the only chef from the country to make this year’s list.
Chef Claudia Albertina was just named to the ’50 Next’ list by the World’s 50 Best group.
Eight young Latin Americans made a splash in the first edition of the “50 Next” list, which highlights chefs under 35 who contribute to the future of world gastronomy as producers, educators, creators or activists. The list, created by “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants,” in collaboration with the Basque Culinary Center, recognizes the work of 50 young people, from 34 countries, who are working to promote positive change in cooking. This year just one Mexican made the list – an Indigenous woman from Chiapas.
Originally from Saclamantón, a small pueblo in Mexico’s Chiapas state, Albertina is the chef and owner of Kokono, a restaurant in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas where Indigenous culture is center stage.
She also works tirelessly in her community to provide much-needed training and work to young people who are interested in the food industry. Part of her philosophy also leads her to support local producers to promote the value and origin of her culture’s dishes and ingredients.
“When I found out that I am the only Mexican I began to see the magnitude of the matter, they were talking about Chiapas, San Juan Chamula,” she explained to Reporte Indigo. And she explained how San Juan Chamula “is recognized touristically as a mystical place, but in the state it is recognized as a town troubled by violence and that its cuisine is rarely highlighted, so it’s very emotional.”
Albertina takes pride in her Indigenous roots and the cuisine of her ancestors.
From a small rustic kitchen in her restaurant Kokono, Albertina has clearly laid out her vision of the Tzotzil people and how they link the land, humanity, and cooking.
“In indigenous thought, everything that revolves around us has life. The tierra, the producers, the ingredients. This is where indigenous gastronomy begins,” Albertina recently told Reporte Indigo. Along with this vision of what cooking means, Chef Albertina explained how she doesn’t so much want to challenge tradition, but to innovate it.
“It is just transforming the presentation, and maintaining the flavors of the vegetables and meats in the Chamula style,” she stressed. “The richness of traditional indigenous cuisine lies in its history,” she added.
The young star chef studied at the Chiapas University of Sciences and Arts, which helped her perfect generations-old family recipes, from the simple – such as tortillas – to traditional preparations such as sour atole (a drink made from fermented black corn). She’s also published a cookbook in both Tzotzil and Spanish focused on the cuisine of her native Chiapas.
Despite the immense progress she’s made, Albertina acknowledges the challenges she frequently faces in the industry, with racism and colorism often putting roadblocks in her way. Even today, the big hotel companies and restaurant chains close their doors to her, unwilling to hire Indigenous head chefs.
Modern-day Mexican cuisine was built on Indigenous techniques and ingredients and it’s so important to see Indigenous Mexicans receive that recognition – including at the international level. Congratulations Chef Albertina!
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