How Chef Mario Infuses His Heritage Into His Work

By Chef Mario Garcia, Executive Chef of Hilton Chicago

It seems like yesterday that I started at the Hilton Chicago as a pot washer. Twenty years certainly goes by at the blink of an eye. Starting out, I was willing to do anything- always eager to move on to the next opportunity. I’d say yes to anything and everything as long as it meant that I was learning. As a result, I’ve learned from several skilled chefs and even put myself through culinary school while working for Hilton. I’ve held nearly every position in this very kitchen and I know this place inside and out.

My passion for food came at a very young age, growing up in Fresnillo Zacatecas, Mexico. My parents and I worked on a farm together. We grew and harvested tomatoes, cilantro, peppers and beans. It was at this time that I really learned about the importance of living off the land and the significance of advocating for local farmers long before the trend. With admitted nostalgia, tomatoes have a big place in my heart and many of my recipes will include an element of tomatoes.

In the mid-2000s, I started tinkering around with the idea of using a large rooftop space on the 8th floor of this hotel overlooking Willis Tower as an urban garden. I gained so much enjoyment living and providing from nature as a small boy in Mexico with my family, that I thought it would be awesome for my team to experience incorporating fresh grown produce to dishes that they had a hand in cultivating. Nothing is fresher and more delish than homegrown.

The tattoos shown here represent the tools of the trade. They are essentials tools that I use everyday to celebrate my roots in my cuisine.

In the year or two following, we expanded to incorporate an “apiary” (a collection of beehives) and began to harvest honey and play around with different flavor profiles based on what we included or didn’t include to the garden. Around 2014, I learned of a program that a group called Windy City Harvest was starting. These guys were doing something different – not just for sustainability but for the community so I requested a list of produce that they will grow during the different seasons.  and I started to incorporate it into banquets and other special events in our hotel, they have a great selection of what they grow in the neighboring Windy City Harvest plots that are cultivated throughout the city.

Gardening in downtown Chicago is a far cry from farming in rural Mexico, but I can tell you one thing- when that Lake Michigan breeze whirls through on a hot sunny, summer day and it’s just me and the guys up there looking after the garden with that skyline – man, does that feel good.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re featuring Latino inspired recipes on our Hilton Careers Instagram. Keep reading to learn how to make one of my signature dishes and follow along this month as we feature chefs around the world.

Shrimp Aguachile with Carrots

Ingredients: 

2 lbs. Peeled Shrimp (small size)
2 lbs. Carrots (juice)
1 ea. Red onion Julianne
10 ea. Limes (juice and some zest)
2 ea. Seedless cucumbers peeled and sliced
1 ea. Bunch cilantro chopped
2 ea. Mangoes (peeled and diced)
2 ea. Avocados (diced)
Chiltepin to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
12 ea. Tostadas (crispy corn tortillas)
Mexican-style salsa to taste

Process: 

  1. In a large bowl, place the shrimp and onions and season with salt, pepper and chiltepin, then add lime juice and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  2. Using a juicer, extract the carrot juice and set aside.
  3. Peel and slice the cucumber and season with salt pepper and chopped cilantro.
  4. Get the chilled shrimp and add the carrot juice and marinate. Add some of diced mango and diced avocado and gently mix the ingredients to avoid the mango and avocado from getting mushy.
  5. In a large platter line up the sliced cucumber, then place the marinated shrimp in the middle of the platter and garnish with the remaining mango and avocado and chopped cilantro.
  6. Served with Tostadas and Mexican Style Salsa.

Interested in joining the Food & Beverage team at Hilton? We’re hiring! See all the opportunities here.