Chef Spotlight: Gilberto Cetina Jr of Holbox
Posted on September 10 2019
Our favorite lunch spot is Holbox, a seafood stand housed in Mercado La Paloma where Chef Gilberto Cetina Jr (co-founder of Chichen Itza) serves up Mexican-inspired seafood dishes. His inspiration derives from the simple, fresh flavors of just-caught seafood prepared on the boat.
Holbox is a casual, order-at-the-counter spot that serves both raw and cooked seafood. Specialties include ceviches and shellfish on the raw side and wood grilled seafood tacos on the cooked side. Holbox differs from Chichen Itza in that it is not totally focused on the Yucatan. The menu draws flavors from a variety of Mexican and Southern Californian coastal recipes.
We had a chance to sit down with Cetina and ask him a few questions about owning a restaurant, his background, and his inspirations.
BlueCut: Were you interested in cooking or owning a restaurant at an early age? What or who has been your biggest influence?
Gilberto Cetina: Absolutely not! I wanted to stay far away from cooking. I grew up in a household where cooking was always a side job, so my sister and I had to help and we didn’t like it.
BC: Where did you cook before Chichen Itza and Holbox?
GC: Nowhere. I learned from my dad at Chichen Itza.
BC: Do you have any partners in your business? How do you feel about partnerships?
GC: Chichen Itza is a family business—my partners are my family. I like my partners! :) But I don’t have any partners at Holbox.
BC: What do you think about sandwiches or tortas with your concept at Holbox?
GC: Although we only have one sandwich on our regular menu, I think sandwiches can be a creative way to serve delicious and affordable food. As long as the bread is great, the sandwich is a great medium for other great products.
BC: Any sneak peaks on sandwiches you’re developing at Holbox?
GC: We’ll be serving an open face sandwich at this pop-up that will eventually make it to the Holbox menu. Sourdough toast with scrambled egg and crab stuffed chile.
BC: Why the name Holbox?
GC: Holbox is an island near my hometown of Merida in the state of Yucatan. It’s one of the places I have great memories of growing up in Mexico.
BC: What are your feelings on the current state of fishing and bringing sustainable seafood to consumers?
GC: There is a small network of seafood farmers, fishermen, and distributors making great progress in bringing sustainable aquaculture and sustainably caught seafood to consumers. We need to let our local fish market and restaurants know that we want seafood from these sources. 90% of fish consumed in the US is not healthy for us as consumers or for the oceans, rivers, and lakes. We need to do more, a lot more.
BC: What’s your favorite memory profile, which you always go back to?
GC: Ceviche made on the boat on the way back to shore after fishing. Very fresh, rinsed in seawater and simple—just fish, lime juice, onions, and cilantro. That is my go-to flavor profile for ceviche, and it’s what we shoot for at Holbox.
BC: You have some very rad pics on IG. What are your thoughts about social media in relation to the culinary industry?
GC: It’s the new way ideas spread. I don’t love the widespread use of social media platforms; I think it’s gone too far. But it’s a great way of sharing your product and ideas to the right people.
BC: Any advice for aspiring or established chefs taking a plunge into ownership of an establishment with or without partners?
GC: Do it for the right reasons. It’s an all-consuming task to run a restaurant, and if you don’t love it you will resent the fact that you are working weekends and holidays...you know, when other people or having a good time. Also it’s important to have the support of your family, especially your partner, because the long hours can be very difficult on your relationships.
BC: What’s the best meal you’ve ever had from another chef? What made it memorable?
GC: First, my dad’s Puchero de Tres Carnes. It’s a humble stew with meats and vegetables. I have never been able to make a Purchero as good as my dad’s. It reminds me of Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s house in Merida.
And second, a recent dinner at Antico by Chef Chad Colby. It was soulful and refined without being fussy. A great balance of flavors from course to course—overall a great meal.