LAJA, a Restaurant in the Middle of Nowhere
Last year I attended “Terroir”, an annual event in Toronto, which offers leaders in the restaurant business a chance to draw breath and share experiences. You might wonder what on earth I was doing there and at times I wondered myself! In fact the trip was part-funded by Fáilte Ireland as part of their “Food Champions” programme, an initiative to develop food tourism in Ireland. (More of that here: http://www.failteireland.ie/Supports/Food-Tourism-in-Ireland/Food-Champions.aspx )
Anyway, all the speakers were interesting and some were amazing: like Jair Tellez. His story resonates with many who have heard it.
Jair is the chef-patron of Laja, a restaurant in Guadalupe, an isolated valley in the north-west of Mexico. “For me, cooking has always come easy”, he explains, “but it is really a way to pursue what is most important to me – my relationship with people.”
The story of Laja is a story of inspiration, perseverance and faith. In 1999, he bought a piece of land “in the middle of nowhere, hoping that it would become a destination restaurant with really good food”.
With the help of some local men, he cleared the land and planted it. Bit by bit, all the elements of the restaurant were put together and more locals were hired to work in the kitchen and wait on tables.
On the day Laja opened, no customers came. But gradually, business began to build and Jair developed talent in his team where he found it. Today, Laja is a source of pride in the community and has been a catalyst for economic growth in the area.
“It should have failed, but it didn’t”, says Jair, who is now recognized as one of Mexico’s most important chefs.
In September, Jair presented his story to delegates at Food on the Edge in Galway and he showed this video: https://vimeo.com/143094756 - I am delighted to share it with you!