IN THE KITCHEN: Made in Mexico - Janet and Fernando Bravo
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Story Katherine Elphick
Photography Ellie Kistemaker


A mainstay in Newmarket since 2011, Made in Mexico has arrived in downtown Barrie.
Serving up tasty Mexican fare, lively music and a colourful décor, Made in Mexico is all about having fun, explains Janet Bravo, who owns and operates both locations with her husband Fernando, who grew up in Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Recently, this GoodLife reporter visited Janet Bravo at the newly opened 130-seat Barrie location to learn more about the popular restaurant and cantina. Conversation topics ranged from Fernando's long-standing passion for Mexican cuisine and popular menu items, to choosing Barrie for their second location.   

Is it true that several successful home dinner parties led you and Fernando into the
Mexican restaurant business?
Janet Bravo: Fernando has always had a passion for Mexican cuisine. He was born in Mexico, and we met each other there while I was vacationing. After we got married, he moved to Canada and brought that passion for cooking with him. He loved sharing his family's favourites from Mexico with friends here in Canada. What started out as people eating in our home turned into suggestions of ‘you should really open up a Mexican restaurant' – so we did. We took a leap of faith and opened up the Newmarket location. That was four years ago, and we haven't looked back since.

What led to a Barrie location?
JB: I grew up in Midland, so I have lots of friends and family close by. When we discovered this location (at the Five Points) was available, we immediately fell in love with the space. As soon as we walked in, we felt that it was a perfect location for a Mexican restaurant. Just like our Newmarket location, we were really drawn to the downtown. We love being part of the downtown community, the BIA and getting involved in local festivals. Downtown Barrie has a great community feel, and that's why we set up shop here.

The Made in Mexico motto is: ‘we are people having fun serving people who are having fun.' Can you expand?  
JB: Our goal is to have fun! We want our staff to have a great time because having a great time is contagious to our diners. From the Mexican music and tropical drinks to our great food and lively atmosphere, we want people to feel like they are enjoying a little escape from everyday life. It's more than just a meal – it's an experience, and we want everyone to have a great time.

Tell me about the colourful artsy chalkboard-like posters lining the walls.
JB: Like the rest of the decor, the artwork has a Mexican theme. Fernando designed the boards to teach people about Mexican history, food and culture. The boards are a fun way to learn about the history of margaritas, or the story behind nachos, or historical trivia about famous
Mexicans. We also have lots of funny signs that diners really get a kick out of.  

What's Fernando's culinary background?
JB: Fernando is completely self-taught.
Growing up in Mexico, he spent countless hours in his mother's kitchen. With five siblings, each kid had their job and Fernando's assigned task was making salsas and helping his mom cook. He grew up in the kitchen learning all of his old family recipes and many of those recipes are on our menu today. Some have been customized for Canadian tastes, however. Fernando's daughter, Romina, was also involved in the business and she grew up cooking beside her grandmother. Cooking is a true family passion for Fernando and his family.  

What's the secret to preparing great Mexican Food?
JB:  No shortcuts. Only use fresh ingredients and take the time to do it right. Our food philosophy is fresh made daily and we don't compromise on that. We make everything from scratch, including our own hot sauces, salsas, refried beans (from dried beans) and so on. Even our tortilla chips are made fresh every morning. We take great pride in making everything in-house.  

The Made in Mexico menu is big!
JB: We offer all of the most popular traditional Mexican dishes, so there really is something for everyone here. Menu highlights include: guacamole, burritos, tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas, flautas and churros (sweet Mexican fritters). We also offer great vegetarian and gluten-free options. Our most popular main dishes are burritos, chimichangas and tacos.  

What three-course meal would you order for me? And don't forget a beverage.
JB: To drink, I would definitely suggest a margarita! But if you'd prefer something non-alcoholic, I'd recommend Jarritos, a Mexican soda pop that comes in a wide variety of flavours.  To start, I would order up a bowl of tortilla soup or our ever-popular guacamole and tortilla chips. For the main, I would suggest my personal favourite – fish tacos. The alambre (a traditional Mexican fajita) is also a nice option. For dessert, even though I love the choco flan, churros are a given. Everyone always seems to have room for our churros because we make them fresh to order.
Diners go crazy for them!  

How often are you in Barrie?
JB: Either myself or Fernando is here every day. We split our time between our Newmarket location, Barrie and home. We have a young four-year-old son to raise so family time is important to us. That's why we are closed two days a week (Monday and Tuesday) and we have done that at both locations right from the beginning. We use those two days to focus on our family and that's how we get our balance.

Who is in the kitchen?
JB: Fernando and I are constantly in both kitchens testing the food. As for food preparation? We have a great staff that we have hired and trained to prepare our recipes.   

What about the beverage menu?
JB: Think vacation! [laughs]. Highlights include mojitos, margaritas and our ever-popular bulldogs. A bulldog is a margarita with a Corona turned upside down in it. So, if you can't decide between a beer or a margarita, we combine them into one. We also carry various Mexican beers.

Made in Mexico (Newmarket) was featured on “You Gotta Eat Here!” hosted by John Catucci. What was that like?

JB: It was a fantastic, fun and incredible experience! It was also immensely flattering because diners suggest restaurants for the show to cover. It was filmed about two years ago and we still get people mentioning it to us. We even have recipes in the show's second cookbook.

What about specials?
JB: On weekends, or during special events like Barrielicious, our kitchen gets creative and offers up different tasty dishes to keep the creative juices flowing. As for special dining deals? On Sundays, kids eat free.

How have Barrie diners reacted to your restaurant?
JB: Overall, it's been a really great response. Many of our customers are people who have eaten at our Newmarket location and have decided to give the Barrie restaurant a try. They seem really excited that we have opened one up here. Another positive indicator is that we have lots of repeat customers and we're busy. On Friday and Saturday nights, we usually have a waiting list.

Besides Made in Mexico, what's your favourite foodie destination?
JB: We love Toronto's Kenzington Market
because there are lots of great Mexican ingredients there.

Any interesting future plans?
JB: We're currently working on our 50-seat
patio, which is scheduled to open on May 5 for Cinco de Mayo. Weather permitting, of course [laughs]. It will be a great place to hang out and enjoy some tropical drinks and Mexican fare. As for other plans? Expansion is definitely part of our future, but we have to make sure it's done properly. When you make everything from scratch, consistency is very important because you have to make sure that diners have the same experience at each restaurant.

You've got the ear of thousands of local diners, anything else you'd like to add?
JB: Thank you Barrie for such a warm welcome and if you haven't had a chance to visit yet, we look forward to seeing you soon!






FRESH GUACAMOLE WITH TORTILLA CHIPS

(recipe by Fernando Bravo of Made in Mexico) A classic appetizer that is sure to please!   

1 package corn tortillas (not chips)
   Salt, to taste Oil for frying
3 to 4 ripe avocados (ripe avocados will have a smooth skin)
1/2 white onion
2 tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 lime
Pickled jalapenos (optional)

PREPARATION
Peel skin and remove the pit of the avocado. Mash the inside of the avocado in a bowl with a fork, still leaving some chunks. In separate bowl, finely chop onion, tomatoes, and cilantro. Mix with the juice of 1/2 lime and pinch of salt, to taste. Slowly combine the tomato mixture into the mashed avocado.
To give it a little kick, add some chopped pickled jalapenos (at home we even pour in some of the juice from the pickled jalapenos as we like it spicy).
Cut the corn tortillas into triangles (usually 1 tortilla will give you 4 triangles). Cut as many as you like, depending on how many chips you want!
In a deep frying pan, fill to about 1/4-inch with oil and set heat to high. Once the oil is hot,  drop a handful of cut tortillas into the pan using a wooden spoon to push them around as they fry. That way, they won't stick together.
Using tongs, pull out the tortilla chips as they become golden brown and transfer to a strainer to let the excess oil drip off and then put in a large bowl.
Repeat the cooking process for the chips multiple times until you have the desired amount of tortilla chips, making sure you don't overcrowd the pan. It is better to do it multiple times and get a great product. You may also need to add some oil along the way.
Take a pinch, or two, of salt and sprinkle on top of the fresh tortilla chips and stir them around in the bowl to distribute the salt.
Enjoy your fresh hot chips with the guacamole!




MADE IN MEXICO RESTAURANT AND CANTINA
10 Dunlop Street East, Barrie
705-503-7722
www.madeinmexicorestauarant.com

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