Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Episode 6: Chef Juan Mondragon, Juan's Restaurante, Baldwin Park CA

Chef Mondragon prepares iguana birria
Chef Juan Mondragon was introduced to us by friend and Mexican culture afficionado Chuy Nomas, who raved about Mondragon's expertise in the pre-Hispanic cuisine of Mexico and extensive knowledge of the health benefits of many of the dishes and ingedients used by the indiginous people. Val's penchant for wearing dragon shirts seemed particularly appropriate for Kamikaze Kitchen's Episode 6, as Chef Mondragon's surname is French for "my dragon", although Mondragon only appeared to breathe fire at the end of his encounter with Kamikaze Kitchen. Mondragon was born in Mexico City and raised on a farm, where he learned to cook at a very young age in his grandmother's kitchen, using locally grown and raised ingredients (including nopales, tunas (cactus pears), cocoa and a variety of seeds such as pumpkin, chia and pine nuts).

Cut pieces of iguana and a shot of iguana blood
Mondragon is famous for his hand-crafted moles made in the style of the state of Guerrero; he uses 17 different types of chiles and utilizes recipes passed down to him by his grandmother. Having studied culinary arts at Gastronomico Chefuri Culinary Institute in Mexico City, Chef Mondragon was discovered by Ryan Seacrest, having served as Seacrest's personal chef for several years, as well as preparing food for celebrities such as Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Iron Chef Chairman Mark Dacascos, Sofia Vergara, and Raul de Molina.

Chef Mondragon shows what he's done with the mystery ingredient
Chef Mondragon recognized our ingredient immediately, having eaten iguana many times growing up; although he decided to use one or more of his grandmother Leonor Arellano's recipies, he had never cooked the reptile before (a fact made obvious by his reaction to the skinned and gutted creature lurking at the bottom of the mystery bag). With only a single iguana in tow from, Mondragon opted to alter two recipies - one with mole, and the other a birria. Mondragon is bursting with pride when he describes the joy of sharing the culinary delights from his childhood, and hopefully you will be able to use the following variation of his grandmother's recipe to make a tradition of your own:

Iguana Birria (Stew)

  • 1 whole, skinned and gutted iguana
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. oregano (dry)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 whole peppercorns
  • 1 whole onion
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 1/2 lbs of chile guajillo
  • salt to taste
  1. To a liter of water, add 2 teaspoons of vinegar and the juice of one whole lime
  2. Allow the water and ingredients sit for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash the iguana thoroughly
  3. Cut the iguana into pieces of desired size
  4. Toast the garlic, cloves, bay leaves, onion and chile guajillo (the chiles can be boiled if preferred)
  5. Blend all ingredients together
  6. Heat very little oil (preferably grapeseed or cold-pressed EVO) in a sauce pan on low heat
  7. Add blended ingredients to the sauce pan
  8. Add the iguana pieces and keep on low heat
  9. Stir all ingredients every 5 minutes; do not allow the sauce to over-thicken
Iguana should be ready in 1 to 1 1/2 hours (check it after an hour)

Follow Chef Juan Mondragon on Twitter at @Chef_Mondragon, and on Facebook at /Juan Mondragon
Follow Juan's Restaurante on Twitter at @juansrestaurant, on Facebook at /Juan's Restaurante and on the web at

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