Adriana Cavita

Chef Adriana Cavita at her Cavita restaurant in London

Adriana Cavita

Accomplished Mexican chef Adriana Cavita cooked at institutions like El Bulli and Pujol before opening her first restaurant Cavita, where she dispels stereotypes and brings the vibrancy of authentic Mexican cooking to London.

‘In Mexico, we say barriga llena, corazón contento,’ Adriana Cavita smiles. ‘It basically means full belly, happy heart.’ That sense of abundance and cultural rooting underpins Adriana’s cooking and is the backbone of her Mexican restaurant Cavita in London, where she draws on her upbringing to deliver an authentic taste of the cuisine's vibrancy. Her grandparents were formative in shaping her understanding of food, and she credits her grandmother, who used to sell tamales, quesadillas and tacos from her home in Mexico City, with inspiring her into the kitchen. Adriana recalls trips to the market with her to stock up on charcoal and mornings spent kneading corn. Her grandfather, meanwhile, gave her a grounding in produce, living on a farm in a village a couple of hours outside the city. ‘He had acres of land and used to grow corn, pumpkins, beans and potatoes,’ she says. ‘He'd talk about rotating the vegetables he grew and how when you grow potatoes that helps to grow the corn later and so on, so I always had this connection to food.’

While she cherishes those memories, Adriana wasn’t initially sold on the idea of becoming a chef (‘I felt Mexican food back then was about the woman serving the man,' she says) so, having also been discouraged from the arts by her mother, looked into a career in tourism. It was a friend who first introduced her to the idea of studying gastronomy, nudging her in the direction of a five-year course at Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana. ‘Nobody studied gastronomy at that time, I’m talking eighteen years ago,’ she says. ‘Most of the schools in Mexico were French-based, but this one gave you the whole programme, not just culinary techniques – it was very full-on, from chemistry in food to wine, pastry, chocolate, sugar, Mexican food and French cuisine.’

At nineteen, Adriana staged at Enrique Olvera’s acclaimed Pujol (her first restaurant job had come two years earlier, at Nicos in Mexico City), accepting an offer to join the brigade around her studies and witnessing its menu evolve from French to Mexican. Then her university announced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; an eight-month placement at Ferran Adrià's former three-star restaurant El Bulli (named the world’s best a record five times) in Spain as a chef de partie. Put forward by her teachers, Adriana beat her peers in a competition and landed the place. ‘That for me was life-changing,’ she says. ‘It was pretty tough, but all the learnings they give you are brilliant. Roses (where El Bulli was located) is a beautiful place next to the sea and I met people from all over the world. We didn’t just learn from El Bulli, but also the people we lived with; we had people from Japan, Canada and Spain and on our days off we all cooked food from our own countries.’

When the placement came to an end, Adriana returned to graduate and rejoined Enrique as his development chef, travelling around the world and shaping menus for the better part of a year, before securing a visa and moving to New York for a stint at two-Michelin-starred Brooklyn restaurant Aska. There, she learnt techniques like fermentation, pickling and smoking and was part of the team when it earned its first star. She also worked with an Oaxacan chef who encouraged her to meet and learn from his mum Juanita. ‘I had learned Mexican cuisine, but I thought, ‘do I really know it’? I want to learn the roots. So I came back to Mexico and went directly to meet her and said ‘teach me’. We started with moles.’ Having joined the team at Eduardo Garcia’s Lalo!, she worked in the restaurant during the week and travelled to Valles Céntrales in Oaxaca in her free time, learning Juanita’s recipes, stories and memories – a partnership which has helped to shape the menu at Cavita. 

In 2016, Adriana agreed to lead the kitchen at Eduardo's now-closed Peyotito, overseeing both its London flagship restaurant and Ibizan outpost. When that closed two years later, she went freelance, launching her own catering company and running pop-ups at the likes of The Little Yellow Door in Fulham and, later, The Dorchester. In the background, plans were taking shape for a restaurant with Adriana’s name above the door and, in May 2022, Cavita opened in Marylebone. The first eighteen months were, to put it mildly, bumpy; a visa complication saw Adriana forced to return to Mexico for seven months, leaving her business partners and sous chef in charge. ‘It was really tough for all of us,’ she says. ‘I was very stressed, I started to get sick as I was under so much pressure.’

Looking for a silver lining, Adriana focused on reconnecting with her family, travelling across Mexico and finishing her cookbook Cocina Mexicana. Twelve months after the restaurant first opened she was finally allowed to return, and Cavita hit its stride. The restaurant is, she says, an homage to her grandmother, the menu channelling the authentic dishes of her childhood and the decor drawing inspiration from family homes. ‘My grandma’s house was beautiful,’ Adriana smiles. ‘She had this big fig tree in the middle and I remember lots of plants, like here in the restaurant. That’s why I wanted to have it like that, it reminds me of home.’ The menu takes in citrusy ceviches, street food favourites like quesabirria and tacos al pastor, as well as meat and fish cooked over coals and shared with home-made tortillas. The goal is to dispel images of heavy, cheese-laden Mexican cooking. ‘I feel like people don’t know that in Mexico we have a lot of seafood, fish, crab and prawns in our cooking, as well as vegetables,’ she explains. ‘Not everything is heavy, not everything is made with a lot of grease and bacon.’

Adriana has relished the challenge of running her own kitchen, overseeing a large team and instilling her own culture, particularly as a female chef. ‘I always say, ‘talk with respect’,’ she says. ‘I have worked in restaurants led by men and sometimes the way the men talked to each other was rude. Restaurant kitchens are already stressful, so I’m trying to slow that as much as I can.’ Adriana is happy to finally have a clear run at making Cavita a success, though she does have one eye on what’s next – taking the brand to the continent, perhaps Lisbon or somewhere in Spain. For now, she is driven by sharing a true taste of her country's cooking. ‘One of the biggest challenges is making people understand what you’re doing; when you have your own project you put all the effort and work and stress in, because it's your life,' she says. 'I want to make others feel that too.'