Julieta Ballesteros is known for bringing French execution and presentation to colorful and boldly flavored Mexican dishes. Her mother’s paintings adorn the walls of her brightly decorated restaurant, Crema, but patrons say the real works of art can be found on the plate. The chef-owner talked to Fork in the Road about staying afloat in a tempestuous economic climate.
What are some of the ways you’ve managed to keep business going strong since the economy tanked?
We started doing Restaurant Week, but [unlike other restaurants that try to keep costs down for RW], we like to have a little luxurious surprise in the dishes… like sauteed foie gras. Restaurant Week should be a challenge. I try to do the best things on the menu so that people can know what Crema is. We also started doing $3 bar bites… so, for $3 you get a nice little explosion of flavor.
You have an extensive tequila list. Does tequila pair well with your food?
I think they’re so great together. Tequila can be so soft that it pairs with ceviche or so strongly flavored that it can [stand up to] spicy flavors like habanero. Each tequila has its own bouquet — some are like perfume. It’s easy to combine it with Mexican food. They’re from the same country so they naturally go together.
You’re a chef-owner. Do you think chef-owners make for better restaurants than those where the chef is just an employee?
I don’t know if it makes for better restaurants or not. Maybe. When you’re a chef-owner, [the restaurant] is like your baby. You need to be there 24/7. It’s not just the kitchen that is your responsibility, but the floor staff. And you have to worry about keeping the customers happy. You don’t just finish the job and then you’re done for the night.
What’s in your fridge at home?
Cold cuts. Cheese. Seltzer water, orange juice, and carrot juice. Limes and agave nectar. And tequila, to make margaritas. Oh, and jalapeno chiles. But only if I’m lucky do I have these things. Usually, I have nothing.
Do you have any special projects coming up?
My dream is to be on Iron Chef, so I’m working on that. I’m so ready to beat Bobby Flay. I’ll find out in a few months if I get to go on the show.