In Depth

Martha Ortiz at the Intercontinental London Park Lane

The Mexican chef speaks exclusively to Portfolio about bringing her acclaimed take on her country's cuisine to the UK capital

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I'm very excited to be opening in London. It is such a cosmopolitan city, open to new tastes and cultures. I believe it is ready for my creative cuisine, which is all about telling stories beyond the food. The name of the restaurant, Ella Canta, symbolises the passion, pride and femininity of my cuisine. I love educating people about the history of Mexico, reinvigorating long-established Mexican culinary traditions with contemporary techniques and artistry. Eating at Ella Canta will be a sensual experience with a real sense of enchantment, just like the magical realism of my great friend (author) Laura Esquivel. I believe cooking is like being an alchemist, transforming with ingredients like epazote (a Mexican herb reminiscent of oregano), piquin chilli and hibiscus to give real depth of flavour to the plate. My mother was a painter and many of my dishes are presented in a frame with a real sense of theatre.

To me, chilli is like a lover: you need to feel its presence. The menu will have characterful salsa and a "vampire" sea bass ceviche exploding with colour and heat. There will be a tasting menu of mole (Mexican sauces made with different kinds of chilli, fruit and a little chocolate), including a black mole from Oaxaca that tastes sweet, nutty and of ashes. Each is complex, with 20 or more ingredients. I will grind and make my own fresh masa (maize flour dough) for tortilla. It tastes amazing with a distinctive slightly sour tang. I think of tacos as a blank canvas to express myself. My tacos will be painted, as the Aztecs used to do. My "couture tacos" are very feminine with lots of flowers and herbs.

I'm excited about the restaurant's design by David Collins Studio. It will have a breathtakingly elegant yet alternative Mexican look, with handcrafted plates from Talavera and much vibrancy.

A separate bar will serve snacks and lesser-known agave-derived Mexican spirits, such as sotol and bacanora. The signature cocktail will be bright red, the colour derived from grana cochinilla (an insect) mixed with mezcal and garnished with feathers. It's called guerrera, "female warrior", which sums me up.

MARTHA ORTIZ is one of the leading figures in modern Mexican cuisine, and the chef patron of award-winning Dulce Patria in Mexico City. Her first London venture, Ella Canta, will open at Intercontinental London Park Lane this June; ellacanta.com

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