Ex-Noma chef is bringing Day of the Dead to London

Voted one of the 10 Best Young Chefs in Scandinavia, talented Mexican Santiago Lastra is cooking a Mexican ofrenda with mezcal at Jar Kitchen on the 30th of October. Tickets are still available here.

Santiago began his career at Spanish restaurant Mugaritz, before joining the team at Bror in Copenhagen. Other stopovers include the Nordic Food Lab, the Wood*ing Foraging Academy and, most recently, NOMA Mexico – where he worked with Danish chef René Redzepi being one of the main producers. Santiago's dishes are inspired by fresh local ingredients but rooted in his own Mexican heritage, with texture, color, and soul at the heart of his cooking.

Now living in London, Santiago's plan is to open his own place. RSVP had the opportunity to talk to Santiago ahead of his pop-up at Jar Kitchen.

How did you decide to create this pop-up concept?

Dia de Los Muertos is a very Special party in my country and I want to bring a bit of that over London.

The menu is inspired in a Mexican Ofrenda but using local British ingredients. Developing new menus is so much fun and it gives the guest an experience of testing something that they can’t have anywhere else.

Day of the Dead’s is normally a party that celebrates the people that are not with us anymore eating and drinking what they liked. So this Pop-up is not about a fine dining, formal experience; is more about celebration, fun food and having an amazing time;

I want people that come to feel like celebrating.

Dias de los muertos is still very much celebrated all over Mexico? Did you celebrate as a kid?

Yes, People still go in some towns to the cemetery to eat drink and celebrate the dead, also in Chapala; that is a very beautiful lake; they make a wonderful magical party with a lot of Ofrendas and boats with candles all over the lake, that is awesome to watch.

Yes! More in the school, than with my Family, but is always been dates that are exciting! As a kid you wait for the day of the dead! Because you know will get amazing food and everything is full of flowers (tajetes) and loads of candies.

How did this connection with Jar Kitchen start?

I made a couple of events at KitchenAid in Soho. Lucy and Jenny came to eat and I think we came along instantaneously, they loved the food and my concept and they want me to make a dinner at their place and is cool that we can blend with the Day of the Dead. When you make pop-ups is always great to have a concept that will be special for the guest. At the end, it is an event and is not just a normal dinner at a restaurant.

After Noma Mexico you started traveling and ended up doing pop-ups all over. Do you believe pop-ups help promote your work faster?

Well, it was actually Before Noma Mexico. I started doing pop-ups in 2015 and lived in about 14 countries from Russia to Portugal, to Italy and Taiwan. Then I worked in Noma for a year as a Project manager of their pop-up in Mexico and realized that what I want it to make something deeper and focus in one place. You have no idea how much work and research is behind a Noma pop-up.

Pop-ups promote my work. It is a good way to get people to know you, but the most important part for me is the possibility to share a bit of my culture. Mexican cuisine is pretty underrated in the whole world. I get to show in different places a little bit of what Mexican food is all about. More than ingredients is about the culture, the concepts, the feeling of sharing tasty, spicy round flavored food and have fun.

Also made me learn about different cultures, what they liked to eat, different techniques, get to taste different ingredients. It is very important for a chef to travel. I will say fundamental.

And is always a different challenge as you cook in a different place, and you make a special menu, you get out of your comfort zone and you learn about yourself and how to slowly develop your own style.

Now that you are living in London, do you have plans to open a restaurant there?

Yes! I love the guest from London. They are so open and fun, I chose London because of the people. It is such an international city, full of different cultures, and great ingredients. Everything is very exciting here. You get in the red bus in the morning and is already exciting!

And also there’s a very cool young chef community that make pop-ups and support each other. It’s my favorite place to be right now.

Now I am traveling around England, searching for ingredients and suppliers, farmers, getting to know fantastic people in the city. Colleagues that share the same passion and making events to start having an idea of how my food should be in London, to be able to make more people happy.

I want to open a restaurant next year in London where I can showcase the love and passion that I have to my country applied to incredible British ingredients and have some happy guests everyday. That’s the dream.