L.A. may be about to cement its place as the premier city in the United States for modern Mexican cooking with the announcement that chef Diego Hernández will be the executive chef of the new Verlaine Restaurant in West Hollywood. Verlaine, which is slated to open this winter, takes the spot where legendary Italian restaurant Dominick’s sat for 67 years. Dominick's closed in late 2015.
Hernández is part of a new, celebrated generation of Mexican and Latin American chefs, and his restaurant in the Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, Corazon de Tierra, is lauded as one of the best in Latin America — it recently was placed at No. 39 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America. In bestowing that honor, the World's 50 Best literature said of Hernández:
Taking his international experience and combining it with Mexican ingredients, Hernández creates modern versions of traditional dishes such as the tamal, Mexican bean soup, or pain d’epice with nopal dessert. Hernández’s motto is “organic, local, sustainable” – the restaurant grows its own herbs, fruits, veg and even olive oil and honey, with other ingredients supplied locally.
Hernández has worked with many other chefs who also have coveted spots on the World's 50 Best list, including Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol and Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain of Monterrey’s Pangea.
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This will be Hernández s first restaurant project in the United States. According to press materials, "Hernández plans Verlaine to speak to the philosophies of his award-winning Baja dining room, which offers an intensely focused celebration of local organic farming and fishing communities, culminating into a unique vision of Baja’s historical marriage of Mexican, Mediterranean and Japanese culinary influences."
Hernández will remain the chef at Corazon de Tierra while also taking on this new project, and will be working with a team of chefs de cuisine to keep both restaurants running while he toggles between the two.
The restaurant is owned by Select Hospitality & Design, the company behind Santa Monica's Hinterland, and part of the team behind Hudson Clearwater Restaurant in New York City. By bringing Hernández to the United States, the company is establishing itself as a major player in the direction of L.A. restaurants, and I'm promised that "additional chef-focused restaurants, lifestyle and design projects are slated throughout Southern California in the coming months."
If you're lucky, you might have a chance to taste Hernández's cooking before Verlaine's opening. He's one of three acclaimed Mexican chefs coming to Southern California to participate in dinners celebrating the third anniversary of Taco Maria in Costa Mesa. Tickets for the Nov. 11 dinner go on sale Friday, Oct. 21, at 8 a.m. The rest of us will just have to wait until winter.