Sometimes it might seem like the “food/foodies” side of Instagram has turned into a competition and there are two ways of participating, one is focused on the biggest and the most excessive dishes possible, and the other one is based on posting the same dishes over and over but with the idea of showcasing a more “mouthwatering” version than your “opponents”, at points it turns very monotonous, how many different versions of avo toast do you really need to see? (Entrevista disponible en Español)
Thankfully, if you look closer you will also find some very original and inspiring accounts, such as Susana Villasuso’s (@Holasus). Susana is originally from Mexico but currently lives in London with her family, we started following her several months ago and were completely stunned by the amazing food posts she was sharing! Aside from uploading some pictures of her tasty meals she also has her own website: Life, Limon y Sal, where she shares the recipes for most of her creations.
We contacted Susana for an interview to know more about her creative process and she provided us with some incredible insights regarding Mexican cuisine, how she manages as a Mexican chef/recipe creator in London and also provided us some nice restaurant recommendations.
Food Aesthetics Barcelona: Hello Susana and thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with us! Could you please tell us a bit more about yourself? When did you first develop your passion for cooking?
Susana: Hi my name is Susana Villasuso and I am a chef and recipe developer, I live in the outskirts of London with my little family, and I write a blog about fresh modern Mexican food.
I have been drawn to cooking since I was very little, I always liked helping in the kitchen and snooping around to see what was going to be served for dinner. When I was in my teens I enjoyed cooking with my Mum and Dad, I loved the whole aspect of spending time together and making delicious food it felt really special to me. I knew then that I wanted to be a Chef or at least something related to the food industry, I must say watching cooking programs from the BBC in Mexico made me dream that perhaps cooking could be something more than just a hobby.
So after taking a gap year in my 18’s I decided to go to culinary school in Mexico, this was very exciting and hard work but it was very helpful and it opened my eyes to the culinary world. I worked in a few restaurants and mainly doing catering but never really cooked what I wanted to cook then after having my kids it became clear to me that working in a professional kitchen was going to be very hard, with the crazy schedules.
That’s how @Holasus was born, at the beginning it was just an outlet to be creative while I was taking care of my little ones, and now it has become a way to keep doing what I love the most: cooking and sharing my recipes.
FABCN: The first thing that caught our attention from your Instagram feed were the corn tortilla pictures, not only are the pictures stunning but the ideas seem so original! Mexico has a really wide variety of tortilla types and flavours but we had never seen recipes like the marigold tortillas, purple sweet potato tortillas or vegetable charcoal tortillas. Where does the inspiration for these tortilla recipes come from?
S: The work of Chefs like Enrique Olvera and Alex Stupak has definitely been great inspiration on my work, and it’s fun to develop new recipes. I always think on the taco as a whole and using the flavored tortilla to enhance that particular taco filling or make it all about showcasing those tortillas and use them for something more simple like quesadillas, but in my mind the main thing is always trying to include more vegetables and fresh things into my everyday food.
But the inspiration always comes to me from unexpected places and most times from my family for example my kids inspired the roasted purple sweet potato tortillas, Lily my daughter loves sweet potato and my son not so much but he likes tortillas, so I thought it was genius to put those two together and it worked! They both liked them.
On the marigold tortillas I wanted to create a festive looking tortilla for a dish to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Marigold flowers are used a lot in the Day of the dead altars, they are believed to guide the dead back to earth with their beautiful vibrant color and scent, I was so happy with the way they turned out and until this day my favorite tortilla recipe.
FABCN: Something that we love about your recipes is that you experiment with Mexican gastronomy but still manage to retain its roots. Your creations seem give new meaning to classic dishes by switching/adding some ingredients in a very ingenious manner, the “chickpea molletes” that you posted on your feed are a clear example of this. How would you describe the type of food you’re creating?
S: I really do feel like a modern Mexican home cook, I like giving a modern touch to dishes that are well known and loved in Mexico, but perhaps cooked in a way your never thought of, my grandma’s cooking was very creative she always used what few ingredients she could have in her fridge and made delicious fresh food, I feel like I do the same, I use what I have in hand or what I can find locally to create my dishes.
For me it’s about using what you have if you don’t have beans at home there are a million ways you can still make refried beans, I have used roasted veggies or lentils to make different but equally delicious alternatives, this may also come from me living outside of Mexico and having to adapt to what you can find.
FABCN: Every shot of food on your Instagram feed and website looks absolutely scrumptious. The Cashew and Tahini mazapán photos are probably some of the most appealing pictures we’ve seen in a while. How long have you been doing food photography for?
S: Thank you so much for saying that! I’m the first one to admit that I’m not a photographer and I use an iPhone to get snaps of my food, but I have found ways to use what I have to get the best results and show the food I make the way I see it in real life! This will hopefully make some people want to try my recipes.
With very little equipment that includes big floor tiles that I use as backdrops and got for free from a local shop, a reflector, props, a good editing app and most importantly good natural light I’m able to achieve nicer looking pictures to showcase my work, I do want to take the time in the future to learn more about photography and start using a better camera but for now this is what comes more handy and practical in my life.
FABCN: We are aware that you live in London, is it difficult to find specific ingredients for Mexican dishes over there? Are they expensive?
S: It is but I think the demand for good Mexican food is growing and you can see more and more ingredients even in commercial supermarkets, most of them I find online and they are more expensive than in Mexico but they go a long way too, what I try to do is to bring the basic ingredients back from Mexico every time I visit my family.
The hardest thing to get is fresh ingredients like tomatillos or poblano chiles, but even these you can find normally in summer months, so what you need to do is get a big batch of these and cook them and freeze them to use in the following months.
FABCN: What is the Mexican food scene like in London? Any recommendations for restaurants or shops to try out?
S: Like I mentioned before I think the demand is growing for more authentic Mexican flavors, but I feel that it’s just starting and I hope we get to the day when Mexican flavors are so familiar that they become mainstream.
I’m embarrassed to say I actually don’t go out that much (mumlife) or when I go out I love to try different cuisines and flavors, but I have been able to try a few places that I can recommend like Taqueria Pastor and Santo Remedio are two that I would go to, they are both near Borough Market (favorite place to source ingredients from) so you can have a nice day out shopping in the market and then head for one of these two places for dinner, I also ate at Lupita once and I remember I really liked the tacos. I have heard of Ella Canta and their menu looks amazing, this one is a bit more fancy but I have heard it’s worth it, it’s at the top of my list of places to try.
FABCN: Which would you say are your favourite dishes to make? Do you also enjoy making food from other parts of the world?
S: Tortillas are my favorite thing to make, it just feels very special to be able to make them for my family and involve my kids, my daughter Lily its very good at making tortillas and I hope is something she’ll continue to do in the future. I also love cooking seafood dishes and ceviche, love fresh spicy food that you can imagine eating in a little shack by the beach in Mexico with a cold beer on the side.
I might not cook something specific from a certain country but I like to include different spices or flavors from different parts of the world, for example I’m pretty obsessed at the moment with middle eastern flavors, I love using harissa in my kitchen and make a nice roast chicken rubbed with harissa, then serve it with tortillas and a quick pickle.
Words: Food Aesthetics Barcelona & Susana Villasuso
Pictures: Susana Villasuso