Photo Collins Laatsch

Harvest a la Mexicana

Chef Silas Caeton is a self-professed open book. Amiable and smiling, he greets me warmly in the Cosecha space. One of eight children, his interest in Mexico began with his father, who studied pre-med undergraduate courses in Guadalajara. Dr. Caeton is fluent in Spanish, and his son has picked up the language, as well as his love of the country. This makes for a natural transition into his upcoming role as executive chef at Cosecha Cocina, which translates to “Harvest” in Spanish. It is the next anticipated addition to the GROW restaurant group which includes Salt & Pine, Curio at Harvest, The Sycamore, Harvest Pizzeria locations in German Village and Clintonville, as well as December’s opening of Harvest Pizzeria in Dublin.

”We’re going to source from local providers as much as we can,” says Caeton, standing in the brick-walled Italian Village building, evidence of construction all around. “High quality ingredients, local when it makes sense, but I don’t want to sacrifice quality for location.” While trying to keep Harvest’s tradition of seasonality on the menu, he adds that when dining at Mexican restaurants year-round one may wonder where they are able to obtain such high-quality ingredients. “Harvest is honest in its transparency in where we get everything from and that is what sets us apart.”

Caeton has been testing growing various plants indigenous to Mexico in the Ohio climate, including Hoja Santa, a traditional ingredient in yellow mole. This is a means to try out flavor profiles and add authenticity to the dishes not commonly found in many local Mexican restaurants. He hopes to work with local growers that can possibly grow some essential traditional ingredients here, year round if possible.

Caeton is excited that Cosecha will be setting themselves apart from other similar concepts in their masa (ground corn). The corn, used for making tortillas, tamales, etc, is being sourced from New York purveyor Masienda, which in turn sources all their non-GMO corn from Oaxaca, Mexico- particularly heirloom variety corn. The corn will then be ground locally in Columbus, a process rarely found anywhere in Ohio.

In 2014, Caeton embarked on a ten-day trip to Rio Blanco, specifically within the Mexican state of Veracruz (one of the interior regions of Mexico), and in the process learned about flavors specific to that region, such as salsa macha, which is relatively unknown in other regions. Dried peppers are fried in oil with garlic, nuts and seeds. He describes it as having a depth of flavor, without being too spicy, and as “something you want to put on everything.” This lead me to press him on his love of sriracha, which I learned from a source close to Caeton he uses on everything. He admitted with a laugh that,  while he has tapered back on his substantial intake of the popular condiment, he does love hot sauce.

When asked if he is daunted by the challenge of cooking a cuisine that is not his own, he spoke with candor: “I’m not calling it authentic, I can’t claim authenticity. I’m not Mexican, I would feel slightly disingenuous.” So instead, he will be doing his own take on Mexican food, blending the rich culinary history and traditions of Mexican fare with more modern techniques such as using immersion circulators/sous vide machines and other techniques he honed with cheffing at the beloved Veritas Tavern. “I’m going to do it the best that I can, as I have seen it represented to me, but I also know I can only do so much,” he said.

He and his team plan on exploring various regional cuisines, including Baja California, Mexico’s northernmost state that stakes a claim on the origin of the fish taco. Chef Caeton will be making his take on yuzu kosho, a popular Japanese seasoning consisting of yuzu citrus, hot green chiles and salt, that is then ground into a paste, an homage to the surprising Japanese influence found in the region. Caeton will add his own twist by using limes and chilies found in Mexico to make the multi-sensory condiment flavor profile of citrusy, salty and floral notes. His enthusiasm and excitement for the possibilities of such a rich culinary culture to draw from is palpable. “There are so many recipes I want to try, it’s hard to limit the menu.” He may change the actual printed menu often, to keep developing techniques and recipes, but also to maintain Harvest’s seasonality core.

This modern twist on traditional cuisine is also reflected by the renovations of the Cosecha space, a 165-year old former milking barn where the GROW team is maintaining much of the building’s charm and character by working within the space without much change to the original structure, and adding a patio outside.

He cites Chef Rick Bayless as his early inspiration, watching his show on PBS, and admires his philosophy and dedication to the community. Caeton asks me if I have heard Bayless’s podcast, “Cooking Other People’s Food.” I smile as it brings us back to the challenges that face him as he creates the Cosecha menu. “It’s nerve-wracking,” he says with refreshing honesty, “especially because much of our kitchen staff that we have hired are Mexican, and they tell me what they think.”

When working on a recipe, the staff is not shy to tell Caeton that is not how they do it, and he concedes that it is not, but that they are collectively trying to attempt something different. “I know it’s not the way their mother made it, or the way they grew up having it, but I know that it’s going to be better,” he stated. Calixto, a friend and former coworker brought on with Chef Caeton, has been incredibly helpful and a great resource. Caeton speaks of him with respect noting that he has a depth of knowledge from heritage and traditional ways of making dishes, but that he is open-minded to trying new things, which is what Caeton and the team at Cosecha are striving to do as they gently push the envelope in the very best sense. You can look forward to having the opportunity to try this exciting essence of Mexican cuisine and an ever-evolving menu when Cosecha opens its doors to the public in January 2017.

Cosecha Cocina is located at 987 N Fourth St. in Italian Village. Like them on Facebook for updates, as well as to get the low down on the occasional pop-ups the team is floating around town.