The chef and owner of both Irving's La Margarita and the new Masaryk in Addison counts as influences such great chefs as Patricia Quintana, Rick Bayless...and his father, Juan.
Juan DeLeon started the Irving restaurant in 1990, after time at Zodiac Room and Esparza's. His death five years later left Gabriel in charge--and he's been drawing word of mouth raves ever since.
His new location gives him the opportunity to play with recipes developed by his father--and to adopt some of the things he's learned on travels throughout Europe.
But he'll never mess around with the ratio of tequila to orange liqueur...
1. Just what is meant by Mod-Mex?
Basically I give authentic Mexican cuisine a new twist.
2. So you find Mexican dishes adaptable?
Oh, yeah. A lot of the techniques that I learned for Mexican cooking are French.
3. You have a place in Irving and in Addison. What's wrong with Dallas?
Well, the economy is involved. This had been a restaurant before and the kitchen was intact. That's the most expensive part. This puppy had a 22-foot vent-a-hood in place. Most Mexican restaurants have a 10-food vent-a-hood, but this was 22 feet. That's $60,000. I just had to do the front.
4. But is it wise to open in this economy?
It's a risky business as it is. As far as I'm concerned, you have a 50-50 chance, no matter what the economy is doing.
5. In a place where Tex-Mex is comfort food, do people branch out and try modern adaptations?
Nobody's been ordering Tex-Mex here. I think they're tired of it. Chimichangas are an afterthought.
6. Why is it so hard to find good margaritas in Dallas?
Everybody's stingy with liquor. I use a three to one ratio. I juice mine up.
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7. So, as a new place you're on review watch. Does it make you nervous?
From the Dallas Morning News, Leslie Brenner is a new critic and has a reputation for being tough, but I was very pleased. Before she came, I couldn't sleep. Then she called and said she had been to the restaurant. Of course, you never get a perfect review, but I was very pleased. Three stars for a casual restaurant. We got a lot of response from that.
8. Do you think Dallas has become more casual?
Yeah. And instead of spending $340 on a night they spend $130. So they look for casual places.
9. Shouldn't you have learned from the first place not to open another?
It's my passion. It's what I love doing.
10. If you weren't a chef...?
That's tough. I think I'd work for the government in this economy. The banks have collapsed, not the government.