Chef Roberto Solís focuses on building a relationship between the cook and the guest. In his restaurant, Huniik, he aims to spread to guests his love for Yucatecan cuisine and traditions by serving dishes that combine heritage with modernity. It is crucial for Chef Roberto to use local products and work closely with the farmers. The guests can feel the ambiance of the land: the local cenotes were the inspiration for the decoration of the restaurant.
The Best Chef: Can you tell us something about your origins?
Roberto Solís: Well, my origins are mainly in this region and Yucatán. I started cooking 20 years ago when I opened my restaurant here in Mérida. I didn’t cook before that. My first restaurant is called Néctar and it is in the north part of the city. And then I was working abroad to learn about cooking because before, it wasn’t my plan to become a cook. So my university was organizing internships in different parts of the world. Because I didn’t finish university, I don’t have a degree.
And then after a few years, I asked myself why I was not cooking Mexican food or Yucatecan food. Why I’m not proud of my roots, my cuisine, my customs, my history, my heritage? And then I decided to change my way of cooking: to find ingredients in the region, make people proud of these ingredients and showcase this kind of cooking. So it’s been a long way.
And then after that, I opened a restaurant called Huniik that is downtown and evolved from my first restaurant, Néctar. It is a small place with only 16 seats. We serve a tasting menu, cuisine that tells about the real flavors of this region in a modern way.
The Best Chef: What made Yucatán so unique, so special among other parts of the world?
Roberto Solís: To start with, we’re very different from the rest of Mexico. We were separated from the rest of Mexico. So we developed different customs and ways of eating and, of course, we use different ingredients from central Mexico and north of Mexico. You can find really few similarities.
I think what makes it a special place in the world is its strong identity, connection with the Mayan culture. And also the people: in the communities, the people that live in the city. I think that what makes this place special, is that you can be outside the city and feel it. And you can be inside the city, walking downtown, and you feel this different energy. And I think that’s why a lot of people are just astonished or falling in love with this region.
The Best Chef: Do you think we can find the solution for a better future here in your region, in your land?
Roberto Solís: I think the solution for this world in terms of making it available to live for a long, long time is for people to get together and stop being selfish. I think of course having this strong identity here creates a big sense of community. Society is strong because we share a lot of values. And I think we have to be contagious about this so more people understand and get together. That’s the only way we will keep going forward in this world.
The Best Chef: What is your mission as a chef?
Roberto Solís: My mission as a chef is to give back kindness to my community. Maybe with strong projects or things that will last even when I’m not here. That means me of course to make people happy but also to showcase the land where I’m from. For me, it’s very important for people to see, eat here, explore, to feel this place.
As a chef, I have a project called Hokol Vuh that I do every two years. I invite a lot of people from around the world especially for this because I strongly believe that that’s the only way that we can make a change. And what better place to start? That’s why I’m a chef.
The Best Chef: Why would you advise people to visit Yucatán?
Roberto Solís: I think you come to visit, you should come and visit the old Yucatánand the new Yucatán. Go to the communities and smell, taste, watch, see, and then come to the city and see what’s going on. I think there are two worlds. The world of the communities and the world in the city. Then you will see the evolution and you see what’s going on. The updated version of who we are.
The Best Chef: Updated version but connected with your past?
Roberto Solís: Yes, yes. We connect with our past.