In Kuuk, Eduardo Rukos and Pedro Evia masterfully combine local Mexican ingredients and modern techniques. They don’t shy away from avant-garde and scientific experiments in the kitchen. The restaurant, pioneering fine dining in Mérida, Yucatán, offers tasting menus as well as delicacies a la carte. The plates are beautiful and the flavors – unforgettable.
The Best Chef: Can you first tell us something about Kuuk, the history behind it, and its philosophy?
Pedro Evia: Well, we started almost 20 years ago in the restaurant business. We had never dreamed about doing fine dining before. But we started to make comfort food, and opened a lounge bar, hoping that our friends come to that place. It was 20 years before. 20 years later, I can tell you that the only ones that are not going to be in your restaurant are your friends unless it’s free.
But we started to succeed in this business and began to research what was going on in the restaurant industry in the world. And we started to travel to see what was happening in the world and who was doing what.
We heard about, of course, fine dining in Spain and other countries. And we said that, OK, Yucatán is an amazing, tourist place. We have almost everything: beaches, archeological cities, culture. And we have our unique gastronomy. But we don’t have fine dining. We don’t have these kinds of experiences that high-level tourists pay to have.
The Best Chef: So you are pioneers of fine dining in Yucatán?
Pedro Evia: That’s when Eduardo came up with the idea of opening Kuuk. And we started very, very small in another house in the north part of the city. And it was crazy because we have never done internships at any fine dining restaurant in the world. We just went to eat there. We learned from what we saw on the plates and we started to create ones ourselves.
And we’ve done a lot of awful things at the beginning, but then we start to create our own flavors, our own techniques, our own philosophy, our own way of reinterpreting the Yucatecan roots of gastronomy.
So we started to work and it took a lot of years to make the restaurant a business, per se, because the local customer didn’t understand us. They don’t even understand us now. This restaurant is not for the local market. But now we are full almost every year of people who come to the restaurant and pay for a trip just to be in our place because they want to be in the restaurant.
So that’s why 12 years ago we started the Kuuk restaurant. And I think it has been an amazing journey with Eduardo’s craziness and the great team that we have. We do what we want. I think that that’s a good part of our success. We don’t follow any rules or parameters. We don’t have other chefs’ heritage or ideology that we need to honor, we have never worked for anyone else. So that’s why we admire everybody. We love everybody. But we do things in our own way.
The Best Chef: Can you tell us more about using science in your cuisine?
Eduardo Rukos Dogre: We had to make sure that the information we were going to give the people through our plates or a book or whatever was going to happen here in the restaurant was true. And based on our Mayan roots, our Mexican roots. One of the fastest ways to do that is through research. And that research needs to be controlled and guided. So we decided to make our lab, our research department. And as soon as you get into that place and you see everything you can do there, the ideas start to come. So that’s why we are involved in many projects. It’s the need for information about roots, and products and transform them in order to show that to the world.
Pedro Evia: To be honest, I have to say that Eduardo has this amazing talent, he is a genius. And there’s a story I like to tell that represents it well. Once we bought these comales from Oaxaca, made of clay.
Eduardo Rukos Dogre: Comales are large plates you use to cook. Here, in Mexico, we use them for everything.
Pedro Evia: And we had to ask for ten of them in order to have one that arrived not broken. The rest broke in the transportation. So one of our interns was throwing the pieces of the comales into the garbage. And Eduardo was in the lab making distillations. And he saw it and said: “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, don’t throw it away!” And he made a distillation of the comales.
So what he got was water with all the flavors and smells of the comales, mud from Oaxaca, and he gave that water to Roberto. Roberto, our sommelier, who is a chemist, made a cocktail with Mezcal and converts that water into a soda. It was the most amazing Mezcal cocktail that I ever tried because it was full of flavors of Oaxaca. It was Oaxaca in a cocktail.
Eduardo Rukos Dogre: And over there, you see that you can make new food without the traditional stuff, you know. It was a cocktail made of a utensil from the kitchen. It’s like making a cocktail out of a spoon or a frying pan. And you can turn that into something delicious and beautiful. That’s what guides us. The idea of making new things.
Pedro Evia: And we started to teach our students and our team that we don’t need restrictions in our thoughts. No borders, no limits. Do the most stupid thing that you can imagine. Do it. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not. I told you we have done awful things that we couldn’t eat or use. But by trying and trying, we can develop great things.
The Best Chef: And the last question, why people should come to Yucatán, to Mérida? And to Kuuk?
Eduardo Rukos Dogre: To be amazed, to be able to remember a magic place that’s going to be in your heart and in your thoughts forever. And it’s not only because maybe you were here at KuuK. It’s because you were in Yucatán. And it’s the place where everything started. The place where a meteor killed everything and where everything started again. And then whatever we know right now comes from this place. Yucatán is known as La Tierra de María Santísima, the land of the Holy Mary. The truth is, Yucatán is an amazing land and of course, everybody has to come. Because we’re here 😀