Today may mark the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, but Austin’s iconic interior Mexican restaurant Fonda San Miguel is celebrating more than Cinco de Mayo. Ahead of its 47th anniversary, the legendary staple of authentic Mexican cuisine has announced two co-chefs now at the helm of the historic restaurant.
Co-founded in 1975 by Tom Gilliland and late chef Miguel Ravago, Fonda San Miguel was the first Austin restaurant to focus on authentic cuisine from interior Mexico. Ravago’s recipes were inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen, and he was known as a master of authentic Mexican food and a giant in the Texas culinary industry. He passed away in June 2017 following a battle with lung cancer, and the two new co-chefs will be the first to fill his post at Fonda San Miguel.
“No one could ever replace Miguel,” says Gilliland in a release. “He wore many hats and filled multiple kitchen roles in a way only he was capable of. It felt right to hire not one, but two skilled chefs to carry on his legacy.”
The two new chefs are Mexico City native Carlos Monroy and sourcing expert Blanca Zesati. Formally trained at the Colegio Superior de Gastronomia, Monroy boasts a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts with a specialization in regional Mexican cuisine. He most recently served as executive chef of Servido, a Mexico City catering company known for servicing celebrity clients such as Shakira, Dua Lipa, and Paul McCartney.
“I want to continue showing the world that Mexican food is more than tacos, burritos, and quesadillas,” Monroy says. “Fonda San Miguel is the perfect place to do that. What Tom and Miguel built almost 50 years ago has stood the test of time and will continue to live on. Our customers are already familiar with the beauty of Mexican cooking, and I am humbled to carry on the tradition.”
Although born and raised in Chicago, Zesati likewise boasts Mexican roots. Her most recent post was as executive sous chef at Austin’s renowned Miraval Resort & Spa, where she spent eight years creating inventive menus for guests with dietary restrictions. Zesati spearheaded a fully organic menu program that changed nightly and provided complete nutritional information to guests. Her extensive experience with procuring unique ingredients has made her an expert ingredient curator and a frequent partner of niche producers throughout the city.
“I’m excited to learn more about my own culture through food,” Zesati says. “My dad is from Mexico, so we visited often growing up. I want to see how I can incorporate what I’ve learned over the course of my career with what I know about my family’s heritage, and hopefully bring Austin some healthier, plant-based Mexican food along the way.”
Gilliland attributes Fonda San Miguel’s longevity to its ability to adapt and evolve while staying true to its core identity, which is part of the motivation behind hiring these two innovative new chefs. He is equally excited about Monroy’s mastery of Mexican breads such as pan dulce as he is about Zesati’s experience crafting creative, organic menus.
“Over the last decade, I’ve noticed a marked increase in guests with dietary restrictions,” says Gilliland, “Vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free — and what those people might not know is that those options already exist. Authentic Mexican cooking is largely plant-based, so that’s what Blanca’s focus will be; researching, sourcing, and incorporating those dishes into Fonda San Miguel’s menu.”
Ultimately, Gilliland tasked both Zesati and Monroy with expanding the existing Fonda San Miguel menu while retaining the restaurant’s core offerings.
“The new items aren’t replacing anything,” he says. “But I’m confident adding them will help us be more approachable to more people. I’ve been around long enough to know that the best way to create an enduring legacy is to continue evolving, continue pushing the envelope and consistently make everyone feel welcome, seen and loved.”
The news comes just in time for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and Fonda San Miguel invites patrons old and new to sample the expanded menu with a ‘Numero Uno’ margarita (or two) on May 5 as part of the festivities. Fonda San Miguel is located at 2330 W. North Loop Blvd. Guests can visit fondasanmiguel.com to make reservations.