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Chef Gabriel DeLeon Looks to Travel, Ingredients and His Father for Cooking

Gabriel DeLeonEXPAND
Gabriel DeLeon
courtesy Mi Dia from Scratch

If you live in the suburbs, you’ve probably dined at Mi Dia from Scratch. And with locations in Flower Mound, Grapevine and Plano, Mi Dia’s Latin cuisine is worth the drive, even if you live in Dallas proper.

Chef Gabriel DeLeon focuses on regional Mexican cuisine, and with Mi Dia, he aims to bring more unique flavors to Dallas-Fort Worth.

DeLeon has been in hospitality since 1988, when he worked at his father's restaurant, La Parilla in Red Oak.

From there, he held positions in restaurants such as Esparza's Restaurante Mexicano in Grapevine. DeLeon never expected to stay in the restaurant industry long term, but after his father died in 1995, he knew he had to carry out his legacy.

He went to Mexico to study the cuisine, working with chef Patricia Quintana. After spending a year in Mexico under her tutelage, he decided to explore more of the world, crediting Quintana for opening his eyes.

“From there, I did my travels to Europe and discovered new foods,” DeLeon says. “Growing up in a Tex-Mex restaurant, all you see are enchiladas, fajitas and tacos. I was really blinded to what was really out there. Traveling really helped my creative process.”

With Mi Dia, DeLeon shares a facet of Latin cuisine that isn’t common in Texas.

“I think we're good at what we do,” DeLeon says. “I don't know anybody else that incorporates Tex-Mex, regional Mexican food and Santa Fe all in one concept. Santa Fe has kind of a cult following. I had no idea that so many people were Hatch heads. I get countless people that stop in from New Mexico and at any location, and they say, ‘How did you bring this year? How did you get the red and green here? How does it taste like New Mexico?’ And I say, ‘I went to Santa Fe, and I learned the recipes, and I didn't change them.’”

Enchiladas azules de pato
Enchiladas azules de pato
Alex Gonzalez

Having worked in several restaurants in his 30-plus-year career, DeLeon has gotten to know his colleagues well. When he has an idea for a new project, he often recruits them.

“My chef in Flower Mound has been working with me for over 25 years,” DeLeon says. “My chef in Plano has been with me for over 20 years. The chef in Grapevine has been working with me over 20 years. Most of these people worked with me at La Margarita, so I built those connections pretty early. When I open a new location, I already know who I’m going to pick. I know their strengths, I know their weaknesses, I know their family history and I know if they’re dependable or not.”

When in the kitchen, DeLeon strives for perfection. He implements the methods his father taught him, such as repeating a trial until he gets the results he wants.

“Sometimes I test a recipe 12 times,” DeLeon says. “That’s something my father taught me early on. I had to do an omelet presentation in front of the class, and I was nervous and I couldn't flip the omelet. And so he came home [with] a case of eggs and told me, ‘Flip them as long as you need to.’ That’s kind of how I do everything. If I don’t like it, I try it again.”

DeLeon cites the people he works with as his biggest inspirations.

“I spend more time with the people I work with than I do with my own family,” DeLeon says. “They’re there every morning at 8 a.m., busting their butts. That’s what motivates me.”

Mi Dia from Scratch, locations in Plano, Grapevine and Flower Mound.

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