Taste the World / Las Puertas
385 Rhode Island Street, Buffalo; 807-1141
Owner: Victor Parra Gonzales
in business since: February 2017
For many Buffalonians, Las Puertas is the answer to a dream. Chef and owner, Victor Parra Gonzalez, has brought something to the region that it has never seen before: the vibrancy of authentic Mexican cuisine with subtle European nuances. Parra Gonzales started with the acclaimed Jaguar at the Bistro (now closed). He opened downtown's Casa Azul, which serves Mexican street food, in 2016, and followed up with Las Puertas; both restaurants have received unceasing praise from local diners.
Victor, you were born in Acapulco, trained in Montreal for several years, and have been a Buffalonian for nine years. With that kind of culinary background—and such varied influences—where is your focus when it comes to creating and composing dishes for Las Puertas?
In Mexico, you work very hard for very little. That is the way of life there. When I moved to Canada, I learned that if you work hard, you get rewarded for that. That kind of shock and way of life really propelled me to work harder to get more in life: a little bit more financially, a little bit more free time to experience life, a little bit more of everything. So, being born in Mexico and then moving into French culture, it not only changed how I looked at cooking, but how I looked at life. Culture changes your presence.
I believe that the biggest part of a restaurant is its culture. It’s a living, breathing thing. If you aren’t steadily injecting in new culture, it cannot thrive.
We at Las Puertas are a team who work as a cohesive unit, not a staff of individuals working for me. We travel for food and culinary cultivation, and we all return home and share our experiences and build menu items based on those experiences.
Your menu seems to be ever-changing but always with a strong seafood base.
Seafood has been my passion since I moved to Montreal. My teacher there failed me horribly on my first cooking test, and it just catapulted me into a place where I heavily concentrated on fish. There is so much finesse required when working with fish that I’ve made it a personal mission to master fish.
Speaking of fish, let's talk ceviche. Most people think it's just fish or shellfish and lemon or lime juice with some spices, but, in looking through your previous menus, it appears that you've already had several different variations with very distinctly different intricacies in each of them.
A lot of people are unaware of just how many techniques there are when it comes to ceviche; very few people could identify where all the different styles are from. For example, there is Peruvian, where they first started curing fish with lemon in order to transport it. It “cooked” the fish, made it safe to eat and/or transport, tasted good, and the lemon helped aid in digestion. In Central America, it is a lot heavier with stronger spices and olive oil cures because the fish needed to travel further.
The ceviches in Mexico are going to be deeply rooted from all the different countries that landed there. You will see ceviches back home using tomato, fruits, rice wines, ponzu, soy sauce. Why? Because that is what the Japanese brought when they landed there.
What do you hope to accomplish with Las Puertas?
What I want to accomplish with LP is for people to understand that the food we are going to cook here is deeply rooted in Mexican flavors, even if it isn’t represented in an expected Mexican fashion. With that, we are looking inward and digging deep into our collective life experiences as cooks—all that we have seen and done—to form and shape our own message on each individual plate.
I love pulling influences from all around me and infusing those ideas and flavors into something I grew up eating in Mexico.
I've built my career in three different countries. I was born and raised in Mexico, I cut my teeth in Montreal, and saw my dream come true with Las Puertas in Buffalo. Ultimately, I want to continue embracing this city and hopefully its people will equally embrace us back at Las Puertas.
Ess Eastmer is a food enthusiast by day and a pastry ninja by night.