Chef Norberto left his farm in Mexico when he was only 16 and moved to America in search of opportunities. After working eight years as a cook in a high-end Italian restaurant, he decided to take his Mexican heritage and his Italian training
and open El Barzon, a restaurant that is serving both traditional Mexican and Italian cuisine. When you opened up El Barzon, how was the city? 11 years ago, it was very bad because a lotta crimes. When I opened, people from the suburbs was afraid to come to El Barzon. They said it wasn’t feel safe. I was thinking to close. Finally, people discovered Metro Times, Detroit News, they put it in the article. So, that was when the
people from the suburbs and from everywhere started to find out. (upbeat dance music) You keep it traditional on both sides. Both side, both side, very traditional. Because we don’t do fajita,
we don’t do burritos. We just do something from Mexico that people haven’t tried. We make the mole poblano. The one we make has 22 ingredients. We have a cinnamon,
oregano, all the seeds, chocolate, raisin, garlic, nuts, cumin, clove, with a chile,
tomato, and tomatillo. (instrumental jazzy dance music) We blend it, and then,
we go make the sauce. So, my ma showed me how
to do the mole, family tradition.
Tell me more about your mother, tell me all about
your upbringing in Puebla. Any brothers and sisters? Yes, five brothers and four sisters. (chuckles) Amazing.
So a big family. My background, I’m a farmer, but once you immigrate to the United States, you gotta look for whatever you can do. You start washing dishes,
busboy, waiter, cook, and then, start looking
for the American thing. From the farmer to big city. New York City.
To a big city, what a big contrast, huh?
(Norberto laughs) The next one will be the barbacoa. In Mexico, you dig the ground, you cook the barbacoa there. We gotta go dig a hole?
You dig the ground in my yard.
Okay. (both laugh) No, it’s impossible here.
(both laugh) This is the goat that we have right here. We just salt, pepper, and we just put a garlic and onions. The special leaf that we put it, we call azuchil. I bring from Mexico. Very, very sweet flavor.
Very aromatic. Yes, yes.
That’s the distinctive flavor of the barbacoa.
Correct. And that’s the barbacoa. – [Sheldon] This has been
in the oven for how long? – [Norberto] Four hours. (upbeat instrumental salsa music) So tender. Yeah.
It’s literally falling off the bone. This is so good, Chef. Where I come from in
Puebla, from the farm, that’s very popular dish. You have a wedding, you do barbacoa. They say, “Wow, it’s a good
dish that you’re giving.” That’s why people keep coming because–
Correct. They ask me, “Do you have the barbacoa?” Yeah, the barbacoa, you have the secrets. Yes. Finally, I moved to Michigan, and I used to work for
Italians, too, as well. And I used to work at Il Posto Ristorante. Once you start working, you fall in love with the food as well. How many years cooking Italian then? 12, and when I decided to open my business, I told my wife, “Let’s do “some Italian, too.” Two menus in one kitchen. You’re a madman. When we started, I
started, me and my wife, it was weird because my
wife didn’t know much about the Italian cuisine. She knew about mostly the Mexican. That time, was just me and her, so I had to go to pick
out some vegetables, and she was doing the pastas. As the years come, thank
God we start growing, so we hiring people that they are responsible for each area. On the Italian, we’re
gonna do the tris di pasta. Three pastas on one plate. Tomato sauce, cheese
ravioli with mushrooms, and this is the, they call norcina. Sausage, onion, and cream. And this is the boscaiola. It’s porcini mushrooms. So, we make three pastas in one. When you have three orders
of this, you gotta be with nine pans at one time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s it. How many arms, do you have arms hiding behind there?
(Norberto laughs) – [Norberto] Gnocchi
with cream chorizo sauce. The one dish that fuses the Mexican and the Italian together.
And the Italian. If I have my barbacoa and mole, and I have my pastas, I’m happy. (instrumental brass and
electronic dance music) The spread looks amazing. What do you think about the opportunities of Detroit right now? I think that Detroit is going in the right direction. In order to see progress, we gotta work with the community, with the police, and everybody else, and when they see, they come through the alley at night, “Where do you take me?” When they come in here, this
is part of Detroit, too. You try the barbacoa,
you’re gonna love it. I love the smokiness
that you get from the– Azuchil.
The azuchil. This is what I’ve been dying to try. And this mole is specific to Puebla, where you came from?
Yes. It’s like the perfect balance of sweetness, of nuttiness. And then, we’ll, from
Mexican, go on to the Italian. – [Sheldon] It’s the best of both worlds. And this is the pasta that
you guys make in-house? – [Norberto] Homemade pasta. Perfect al dente. Mushroom sauce is just, perfumes it. And this one has a black truffle sauce. – [Sheldon] And then, the cheese ravioli. – [Norberto] Cheese ricotta ravioli. Amazing, you do make one exception where you blend–
Correct, correct. The gnocchi with cream sauce. Cannot go wrong.
Perfect marriage. (Norberto laughs) That cream cuts through that saltiness of the sausage, the
smokiness from the chorizo, and then, perfectly-made potato. Correct.
Chef, it’s amazing what you have here. When did you leave Puebla? ’79, 16 years old. 16 years old?
16 years old. I came through the border, it took me almost eight days, eight days. (laughs) Eight days of travel?
Eight days. You remember your first
memories in New York City? We went to a pizza place. American–
That was your first Italian.
Italian. First time you ever got to do fancy Italian.
(Norberto laughs) New York City, and when I saw the pizza, I thought it was eggs. It’s this round dish. You thought pizza was eggs?
Yeah! Was the city very different from Puebla? Much different because
I used to be a farmer. Small town, where I used to live. It was only five house. No light, sun goes out, you go to the bed. Sun come up, you come to work on it. When I used to see buildings up and down, “Where am I?” Where I used to see all fields. – [Sheldon] Right, right, right. After a few years in New York City, I visit a cousin that was
living right here in Detroit. I see, wow, this is not a
big city like New York City. So, I moved down here. Lot of people think if you are Mexican, you cannot cook Italian.
(Sheldon giggles) All these days, in those
high-class restaurants, lot of Mexicans cooking their food behind the kitchen. – [Sheldon] Was this always a restaurant? No, that was a clinic. And you built a restaurant alongside with your family?
Correct, correct. With your own hands building everything.
Yes, yes, yes, yes. What year was this? That was 2007. When you decided to open up a restaurant, you didn’t choose the suburbs? No. – [Sheldon] You decided to
open it where your house is. Correct, when you are
small, and you don’t have the money to build on the suburbs because, when you’re gonna go to the restaurant from the suburb, you have to have enough money to build it. So, this was an opportunity
for me to start small. Make it step-by-step, you know? Every opportunity that we have, we just take it. Chef, this was amazing, too, and I thank you for welcoming me into your restaurant, and I applaud everything that you’re doing. Well, it’s a pleasure. Please come anytime. I’m gonna finish off that
chicken mole over there. Okay, you like the mole? – [Sheldon] I love it.