Chef Jason Jones, co-owner and Head of Culinary of The Loco Group, has been roasting chickens almost all his culinary life. If you see him outside in the streets of Mexico in a singlet, you would probably mistake him for a gangster with his rugged shave and three-quarter sleeve tattoos on each arm. However, when he smiles, our Man of the Hour destroys any such notion, and when he speaks of his passion and journey with Mexican food, you cannot help but be absorbed with how much he loves his work; he is the epitome of the idiom: “looks can be deceiving”. I mean look at that smile. What’s not to love? Furthermore, this is Singapore; the only chopping and burning Chef Jason does is in the kitchen where he prepares his mouthwatering spit-roasted chicken specialties for Chico Loco’s customers and their amigos on Amoy Street.
His fire for food was stoked by his sister Suzanne from a ripe young age of 11 – that’s when his foray into rotisserie had begun. Several years later, in 2012, he opened Mamasita, a Mexican dining experience in Melbourne, Australia. In just a span of 5 years from its opening, Chef Jason decided to join The Loco Group to set up shop in Singapore. The Loco Group’s success is well-known among food-lovers and Mexican fare fanatics. Their latest addition, Chico Loco, is a modest, family-friendly, “no frills, no pretense” (according to them on their website) Mexican food joint with a laid-back, café bar style setting. Today, we are glazed (yes that was an intentional imagery) with his wisdom. And did we mention his lovely smile?
I’m really intrigued by The Loco Group’s restaurant names! “Loco” means crazy in Spanish – which is the main language in Mexico – and while “Super Loco” makes immediate sense, is there a story behind the name “Chico Loco” (crazy boy)?
It made perfect sense to us to go with Chico Loco – there we a number of connections. Firstly, we wanted to keep the ‘loco’ – it ties in with our current brand, (and we are still a little crazy right?) Secondly, our new concept is intended for a smaller footprint than our current outlets, therefore it’d be like the little sister, or as it is, little brother (Chico). Then lastly, Chico kinda sounds a bit like Chicken…ish. So it made perfect sense to us.
I love Mexican food and I’m hoping that one day, Mexican street food stalls will make their appearance on our Singapore streets. Do you ever see that day coming?
That would be just amazing if it did. Though, hasn’t the Singapore ways of ‘street food’ changed? Now they’re all in Hawker centres? If things changed and vendors were allowed back out on the streets, then maybe if we’re lucky enough, we’ll see all sorts of culinary cultures on our streets, including Mexican.
What is, in your opinion, the most underrated aspect of Mexican food that gives it its character? Or is it really all about the guacamole, salsa and tacos?
Just like all cultures with a strong culinary history, there are centuries of perfecting family recipes and passing them on. Now we have a cuisine rich with incredible recipes using exotic ingredients we’ve never tried before. For me though, it’s the dishes that have lots of citrus, spice, sweet and sour.
This is probably for the foodies and aspiring cooks out there (or maybe it’s really just because I’m curious) but let’s say, hypothetically, you were tasked to craft a Singaporean- Mexican fusion dish for Chico Loco. Could you walk us through, briefly, what you would create?
Well, interestingly, we have had many discussions about introducing a little ‘localisation’ into our menus, without steering away from the essence of what a Mexican dish tastes like. At Chico, we already have our version of ‘Chicken Rice’, well, kinda. We cook the rice the same, but obviously our Chickens are spit roasted and not poached. At our Super Loco restaurants, for National day, created dishes such as, Chilli crab taco and Kaya sauce with Churros. Though, to answer your question, perhaps I could create a lunch special with our Spit roast chicken, roti and curry sauce. Could be a winner.
Before we conclude with the last question, I’d like to thank you for your time. Lastly, do you have any “words to live by” to tell your fellow food Romantics out there, hoping to spread the joy of good, tasty and healthy food?
‘What am I eating?’ – this I feel is very important for everyone out there. It will have a huge impact to their lives through feeling better, and the environment. We need to question this every day. ‘Is this good for me? Will I get any kind of health benefits from eating it? And, ‘where did this come from? Is it sustainable? Am I supporting good or bad practices if I eat this?’. The world needs everyone to live by this simple question to themselves.