On March 19, 2018, I interviewed Executive Chef Donnie Masterton about the imminent opening of Fatima 7.
On March 22, 2019, I interviewed Chef JJ Castaneda about the imminent opening of Fatima 7.
So what happened? Why did one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in San Miguel history get delayed for more than 12 months? Well let’s just say the roof fell in. Or almost did.
“The caulking on the tiles was a bust”, Chef Castaneda told me. “When we had those fifteen or so straight days of rain back in June, the water went right through. Everything was sodden.”
“The problem with fixing it was this is a hotel (DD: Fatima 7 is on the roof of Hotel Casa Blanca 7) and guests don’t want to hear jackhammers. Construction work could only be done when the hotel was empty which was virtually never.”
It was on Casa Blanca 7’s now fully-repaired roof that I was interviewing JJ; the problems are “long gone”, he said with a sigh of relief.
I asked the chef about his journey from his birthplace in El Paso, Texas to where we were standing in San Miguel de Allende.
“In 1992, I moved to the Bay Area to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco”, he said. “That’s what started my cooking career.”
After graduation in 1994, JJ had kitchen time with some of San Francisco’s most celebrated chefs at the city’s most celebrated restaurants including Aqua, La Folie and Boulevard.
“Later in my career”, JJ continued, “I hooked up with Donnie Masterton, in Palo Alto. I was his sous chef for four, going on five years. Then Donnie went on his way and I went on to other things in the Bay Area.”
“It was a few years later when I was back in Texas and Donnie called me up and said, ‘Hey, let’s talk about your future’ and, hence, I moved to San Miguel de Allende one year ago in January…and what do they say, the rest is history.”
We talked a little about the two chefs working together, developing, originally, the menu for the more casual, tapas-oriented Casa Blanca 7, and then the somewhat more formal dishes at Fatima 7 and I could sense a rapport, a harmony, a kinship between them. I looked at Chef Castaneda and realized that if you put him and Executive Chef Donnie Masterton in a dark alley, you might mistake them for each other. The hair, the beard, the glasses, the black t-shirt and the tatts that rival Groucho’s Lady Lydia are oh, so similar.
“The cuisine Donnie and I are inspired by you can generally call Mediterranean but more specifically it’s Israeli, Lebanese and Moroccan dishes; Middle Eastern countries with a slight nod to North African and Southern Italian”, said JJ.
“I love the healthiness of the cuisine. It’s light, olive oil-based. We’re not going for any butter and cream dishes you’d find in France.”
“One of our most popular dishes downstairs at Casa Blanca 7 has only three ingredients…broccoli, garlic and chile flakes and people love it. Keep it simple is one of our philosophies.”
We were now talking in Fatima 7’s kitchen, massive compared to Casa Blanca 7’s closet-sized kitchen on the first floor. We were checking the menu of what would be served at the Audubon Party at Fatima 7 Restaurant, the first in a series of Wild Food Adventures benefits for the charity. JJ then took me through the prep and plating of one of the dishes, a hummus of garbanzo beans, with pickled vegetables and olives served on pita.
After whipping the hummus, five different olives from four different countries along with preserved lemon and rosemary are positioned in the bowl.
Then eggs pickled in beet vinegar are added, and then roasted local vegetables. Finally, a dusting of paprika completes the visually-striking dish.
We talked also about another item that will be on the party menu.
“This is eggplant caponata, a classic Sicilian dish”, said JJ. “It’s made with roasted eggplant, pine nuts, pomegranate molasses, arugula and basil. It’s another very popular dish downstairs that we’ll be serving with burrata at the party.”
I asked what diners can look forward to upstairs at Fatima 7 that they won’t find downstairs at Casa Blanca 7.
“We have a wood fired oven where on the regular menu we’ll be doing whole fish, rotisserie-style chicken, a rotisserie of porchetta, larger meat portions as well as more grains and more vegetables”, said the chef who recently won the annual SMART Award for the town’s best new restaurant for his accomplishments at Casa Blanca 7.
“What we’re tring to replicate upstairs at Fatima 7 is that heartfelt, soulful, grandmother-style of cooking that she would do in her kitchen.”
I thought about what I could say in this blog post that would convey the enthusiasm, the commitment and desire to make Fatima 7 as successful as Casa Blanca 7 that I heard in JJ Castenada’s words but thought it was best to show you a tattoo on the back of his hand that symbolizes it much more than anything he said. It’s the head of Fatima and the restaurant’s logo.
The Audubon Party at Fatima 7 Restaurant will be held on Thursday, April 11. The cost of the appetizer selections and accompanying wine is $850 per person for members and $1000 for non-members with a portion of the proceeds going to Audubon de Mexico. For reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org and please include the number and names of the people in your party. Fatima 7 is in hotel Casa Blanca 7, located at Juarez 7 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.