Artist and entrepreneur Hugo Montero has lived in New Orleans for 27 years. Last year, he and wife Linda Stone opened Casa Borrega (1719 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 504-427-0654; www.casaborrega.com), which celebrates Cinco de Mayo with music by Fredy Omar and Gal Holiday (5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday, May 5). Montero spoke with Gambit about New Orleans' link to Mexico and Mexican food in the Crescent City.
New Orleans celebrates its links to Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Are we missing its links to Mexico?
Montero: In the 40 years New Orleans was part of Louisiana as a territory of New Spain, my hometown, Mexico City, was the capital of New Spain, and New Spain owned Louisiana. It was in the middle of those years that the Spanish rebuilt [the French Quarter] after the second big fire.
Second, and this is related to Cinco de Mayo, Cinco happened after the Mexican-American War. ... [Spain lost territory that reached what is now Colorado and Wyoming] The French wanted a piece of the cake, too, and [French Emperor] Napoleon III sent troops to invade Mexico. A bunch of Mexican peasants with farmers' tools kicked their asses [the battle which is marked by Cinco de Mayo], so the French sent a bigger army. Emperor Maximilian took the kingdom and he put the president, the first Mixteco Indian president [of Mexico], Benito Juarez, in exile in New Orleans. There's a statue of him on Basin Street at Conti Street. He lived in New Orleans and worked outside Cafe Du Monde rolling cigars. He planned [the restoration of the Mexican republic] in New Orleans. ...
Lorenzo Tio taught many [New Orleans] jazz musicians to play. He didn't teach them jazz. He taught them to play instruments. ... Mexico has been present in New Orleans music, but the story never made it.
How well is Mexican food represented in New Orleans?
M: Put it like this, the two national Mexican dishes that we are proud of are mole poblano and chiles en nogada. They are the most famous Mexican dishes, but no New Orleans restaurant has them. Chiles en nogada is the national dish. It's a big poblano pepper stuffed with different things and covered with white sauce and pomegranate.
More taquerias have opened in New Orleans in recent years. How are they doing?
M: Tacos are good here, and I am a taco purist — a taco snob. Many people who didn't grow up making tacos are now selling tacos. I think it's cool. New Orleanians make tacos now, and they're good. They're different, they don't go with a regional recipe — sometimes they're naively good, but that's a compliment. These are Creole taquerias, and it works. —WILL COVIELLO