Diana Dávila began working in the kitchen of Hacienda Jalapeños, her parents’ taqueria outside of Chicago, when she was 10 years old. By the time she was 21, she was the executive chef. After a stint in Washington, DC, she returned to Chicago to open her own restaurant, Cantina 1910, with the goal of serving classic Mexican cuisine made with local Midwestern ingredients. Yelp reviewers who were expecting chips and salsa and margaritas were vocal in their disappointment, but critics were impressed. And by the time Dávila opened her second restaurant, Mi Tocaya Antojería in 2017, both Chicagoans and visitors were prepared for her very personal blend of Mexican and Midwestern cuisine.
“I’m not interested in making crowd-pleasing Americanized Mexican food,” she told Bon Appetit shortly after Mi Tocaya Antojería opened. “I’m cooking dishes that have been passed down through my family and are ingrained in my memory. I feel like there is something much more magical about that.”
Marcus Samuelsson selected Dávila for inclusion in the new cookbook Today’s Special: 20 Leading Chefs Choose 100 Emerging Chefs (Phaidon). “When eating Diana’s food there is no doubt about her fearlessness when it comes to layering flavours,” he wrote. “It’s always a pleasure to see a chef who is fully in command of her vision.”
Not everyone has Dávila’s fearlessness, but at least we can make an attempt with her guacamole recipe.
Recipe courtesy of Today’s Special by Phaidon as shared by Fine Dining Lovers.
1 ounce (28 g) garlic
2 ounces (56 g) serrano chilies, sliced
4 avocados, halved and pitted
Grated zest and juice of 3 limes
In a blender, puree the garlic and serranos (or muddle with a pestle and mortar). Scoop the avocado flesh into a large stainless steel bowl and mash with a large masher. Add the garlic/chili mixture to the smashed avocado in stages, slowly folding it in and tasting as you go (to make sure the guacamole is not too garlicky or spicy). Do not over mash the avocados. Add lime zest and more lime juice. Salt if needed.