Best of Houston® 2013: Aquiles Chávez left fame and Mexico behind for a restaurant in Houston
At the time, Chávez, who had gone to France for a three-month cooking course at Alain Ducasse's ADF, returned to his home state thinking that he would make French food. Finding it difficult to source French ingredients, he started using Mexican products, then switched from making French cuisine to focusing on Mexican cuisine. It was a big hit.
This led to an invitation to screen-test for the Latin American network Utilisima, which cast him for the cooking show El Toque de Aquiles (Aquiles's Top Chef). After five successful seasons, Aquiles went on to star in a travel cooking show, Aquilisimo, in which he traveled around Mexico in pursuit of food and culture. He is Latin America's answer to Anthony Bourdain.
And yet, at the height of his fame, in 2011, he left his country, moving his family lock, stock and barrel to Houston, escaping what he described as escalating violence and an attempted kidnapping.
"What made you decide to move to Houston, specifically? Why not L.A. or New York City?" I asked.
"To be honest, I moved to Houston because of Mirna," he replied, crediting his friend of ten years and business partner, Mirna Cox. Cox, who was a fan of Chávez's cuisine before they became friends, said that they'd talked about opening a restaurant in Houston since well before Chávez became a TV sensation. "My husband is from Del Rio in West Texas," she explained. "He always said, 'When we have money, we will open a restaurant with Aquiles in Houston.'"
Fast-forward a year and a half. The reality show Aquiles en Houston, which followed Chávez's transition from Villahermosa to Houston, has aired throughout Latin America. La Fisheria has become a destination not just for local foodies, but for Latin Americans visiting Houston from Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Guatemala, and all across Mexico.
"Before he was a Mexican chef, and people liked him. But moving to Houston has been a platform for him," said Cox. "He's the first Mexican chef who went out of the country, starting from the beginning to become a real success. People want to come see him, to support what he is doing."
Lately he's been traveling a lot, making television appearances around the country and working on plans for three more La Fisheria restaurants, slated to open in Playa del Carmen, Villahermosa and Mexico City.
Asked if he plans to relocate back to Mexico, Chávez answered with a firm no.
"We spent three days in Mexico City a month ago to take care of our papers with the embassy. When we were in Mexico City, we were so happy because we got to eat real Mexican street food. But after the second day, my kids and my wife said, 'I miss my home.' Then, when we got back to Houston and we opened the doors, my kids and my wife, they said, 'Oh, we are so glad to be home!' It is not our house; it is our home. Right now, Houston is our home."