The Passion of Mexico
El ZunZun is born from a deep, discovered passion for the cuisine and culture of Mexico.
Written by Joe O’Donnell Photography by Beau Gustafson
The humble hummingbird (zunzun to Cubans) and its migratory journey through Latin America is the inspiration behind the culinary journey of a new Cahaba Heights restaurant, El ZunZun, from respected restaurateur Becky Satterfield.
El ZunZun brings the authentic flavors of Mexico, specifically Oaxaca, to Birmingham. Born from a passion for the ingredients and cuilnary techniques of Mexico, El ZunZun has been built around a respect for the sustainability and traditions of Mexican cuisine.
“The real strength of our menu is the fresh masa (or dough). We start with corn from Masienda, a company that imports corn from the valley of Oaxaca,” says Chef Angela Schmidt. “The corn from Mexico has less starch and sugar than corn grown in the U.S. thereby creating a pure corn flavor and a tender texture. We use three varieties at ZunZun: white Olotillo, blue Conico In addition to tortillas, we use masa to make chips, sopes (masa boats), tamales, empanadas, dumplings and paunchos (vegetarian black bean stuff tortillas). We also use masa as a binder in meatballs, a batter for our fish tacos, and a thickener for moles.”
What excites Schmidt the most about the menu are the three different moles used in multiple dishes. Mole Negro is the boldest with almost 30 ingredients including six different dried chiles. The chiles and the seeds are burned giving the mole a distinct flavor which is balanced by the sweetness of tomatoes, tomatillos, plantains, raisins and Mexican chocolate.
“The challenge we face is people understanding what we’re offering and why we’re different. We’re different because we are offering the authentic cuisine behind the Mexican–American version most of us have grown up with. If you love the flavors of Mexico, you will love our food,” Schmidt says.
Mexican ingredients including beans, chocolate, sea salt and corn are imported from Oaxaca. Schmidt and Satterfield traveled extensively throughout Mexico to bring back the ingredients, recipes, art and experiences to build their vision of El ZunZun. Every detail was hand selected from their experiences, from the hand carved hummingbirds hanging in the windows to the pitchers for Champurrado (chocolate and masa beverage) to the mezcalritos for mezcal flights.
“This food always appealed to me, but it was an Americanized version. After Angela (Chef Angela Schmidt), my husband, Tommy, and I travelled to Mexico several times. We engaged with the Mexican people, their culture, their cuisine, by cooking and talking with them. My passion exploded as did Angela’s, and Tommy was also very inspired. We studied, researched, worked ourselves to the bone. This was something we just had to share with others,” says owner Becky Satterfield.
The new restaurant is in a newly constructed complex on Crosshaven Drive that features Leaf & Petal and Crestline Bagel.•