Rafael Micha is the founder of Grupo Habita, Mexico’s first design hotel group. Launched in 2000 with Hotel Habita in Mexico City, the company is set to open three more hotels in 2008. Micha chose Grupo Habita’s Condesa DF hotel for his last meal.
“I would choose to eat my last meal at the Condesa DF because I had a hand in creating the menu with all the things I enjoy, incorporating ingredients from my culture. The most entertaining part of opening a hotel is creating the menu. Every one should be unique and unrepeatable, like each hotel. Generally I like to sit at the outside tables because I love the Parisian dining culture of sitting on a bench and looking in towards the restaurant.
My grandparents emigrated from Damascus to Mexico City in the early 1900s, so I grew up surrounded by Arabic food and the social ceremony that accompanies it. We still prepare this sort of Mediterranean/Arabic food to celebrate important events at home. For example, I love stuffed vine leaves and hummus, but I don’t eat this type of food outside my mother’s kitchen very often because no one makes it like her. She works from family recipes handed down from generation to generation.
I am also fanatical about Mexican cuisine; it is infused with a magic that does not exist elsewhere. We incorporate unusual ingredients like chocolate and fruits such as mamey and guava that drive me crazy. I also have a thing for spicy foods. I enjoy all the different types of chillies with their specific flavours and properties, and the different means of preparation. I’m definitely an omnivore – I eat everything – I’ll try anything once. I love the ritual of taking your time to prepare food; sitting down to eat it and filling the room with conversation.
For me at least, food is always about sharing – placing dishes in the middle of the table so guests can taste everything, which makes the experience of eating a collective one. I’ve always thought that a table must have the perfect balance of personalities and at my “last supper” there would be a balance of wit, elegance and beauty. Great conversation is essential so it is important to surround yourself with intelligent people – good conversationalists. It’s like a tasty salad; you can’t prepare it with one type of lettuce, you need a good mixture.
In which case I would invite one of my artist friends, [sculptor] Betsabé Romero. I love her work and enjoy her company immensely. I would also invite my children, because it has been a gift to rediscover the world from the perspective of someone who is only one metre high. We lose this outlook as we grow older; we become more serious and formal. Through them I relive first experiences, whether it be of food or art or anything else. I would also have my old friend there, the chef Enrique Olvera, to guide us through the wine and menu. Enrique is a great sybarite without pretensions, so it would be an honour to invite him because he’s usually stuck in the kitchen. And of course I would need to invite all my friends to make us laugh.
It would be a great celebration, I’m very clear on that. After all, it would be one of those important watersheds in life. I would pour a good quality mescal with sal de gusano (worm salt) and orange slices as the aperitif – this is a great Mexican secret that the world is on the verge of discovering. And to accompany my food I would have a strong, full-bodied red wine. I would finish with champagne. Champagne is the best way to celebrate and any moment is a good moment to drink champagne. The basic ingredient of any fridge should be a bottle of bubbly… after all, you never know when you might take your last sip!
Guacamole seasoned with pomegranate and served with sweet potato and plantain chips
Shrimp tacos with chipotle chilli dressing
Amaranth-encrusted chicken breast with a soy and orange glaze, served on a bed of mashed potato
Green tea flavoured with coconut, mango and kiwi
When it opened in 2005, Condesa DF became Grupo Habita’s second Mexico City property. The ground-floor restaurant has a menu composed of traditional Mexican flavours presented with a modern approach. It is also Grupo Habita’s first organic restaurant. The design aims to re-create the feel of a Parisian bistro, with an open-to-the-sky central patio and tables shaded by white umbrellas.
4 chicken pieces – breast and wing
100ml clarified butter
4 medium potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce:
1 tbsp finely chopped lemongrass leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
Grated rind and juice of 2 oranges
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1½ teaspoons sugar
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Place in clarified butter and cover in amaranth. Heat frying pan and add olive oil. Seal two chicken pieces in the pan for 25-30 seconds. Place on a baking tray and repeat for the next two with a clean pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes at 190C. Boil potatoes until soft and mash in the butter and milk.
For the sauce:
Cook chopped ingredients in oil on low heat until soft, then add orange rind and juice then reduce. Add soy sauce, sugar and simmer. Serve chicken on bed of mashed potatoes and drizzle with sauce.