Everyone’s heard that “we eat with our eyes,” but for esteemed pastry chef Rodrigo Alcocer, this is more than common sense or armchair biology. It’s at the heart of all he creates, from his refined-yet-playful confections, to his show-stopping pieces of edible art, including a fabrication of the iconic Cirque du Soleil theater–custom built to house JOYÀ–made entirely out of chocolate. We sat down to hear about his inspirations, aspirations, and the monthly guilty pleasure that sustains him.
On early beginnings:
Since I was a kid, I’ve always been an excellent eater! My father was a doctor, but he used to prepare all the special dishes for our family reunions: ceviches, “pescado a la talla” (Guerrero-style whole grilled fish), and chalupas. On Christmas and New Year’s, my brother and I were in charge of setting the mise-en-place and cooking with our dad.
My aunt Mary Paz has a pastry boutique in Acapulco. After school, I used to help her make cakes and cookies in her kitchen, and I really enjoyed learning about the process. That’s why, in high school, I decided to become a chef—a pastry chef.
On far-flung inspiration:
I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the world, living and working in hospitality in different countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Turkey. Each specific place has its own culinary culture, and I’ve been inspired throughout: by the variety of spices you can find at markets in Turkey, the aroma of roses in “Um Ali” (a kind of Egyptian bread pudding), plus all the amazing fresh fruit to delight in here in Mexico. In terms of where I’ve lived, I think the cuisine I miss most belongs to Turkey. Their food is quite traditional, but 100% tasty! In Turkey, the amazing food reflected the quality of life, but I have to say that nothing beats the food in Mexico.
On cultivating a challenge:
The weirdest thing is my refrigerator right now…is live natural starter, for bread. For me, breadmaking is the hardest technique, and the most satisfying to do well. There are many elements and ingredients, such as flour, water, natural yeast, environmental factors, temperature, etc., which affect the process. Once you start making bread, you’d better be focused on it.
On the balancing act:
It’s a fact that I used to make desserts with different techniques and flavors ten years ago. Nowadays, I like to offer desserts made with updated techniques, healthier ingredients, more balanced flavors, new aromas, and different textures. It’s crucial to be continually updated, and balance is what makes for the ultimate flavor combination: something nice and sweet, but with a little bit of acidity; something totally fresh with fruits and herbs, but always with a pinch of salt to improve the overall flavors and create a crunchy yet smooth finish.
On feeding the soul:
I think home cooks should experiment with fruit. Normally at home, I make baked yogurt with grapefruit, olive oil, and basil. It’s easy, healthy, and fresh! I like those citrus flavors: passion fruit, mango, orange, etc. But at least once a month, I indulge in a “Sweet Bomba.” It’s a bowl of vanilla and chocolate ice creams with a brownie, chocolate sauce, dulce de leche, and caramel praline, topped with pecans and macadamia nuts. It’s crazy–not that good for the heart, but totally good for the soul.