Te extraño, extraño, Mérida, Mexico
In Conversation with Ana Carolina
Photos and Words by Ellen Christina Hancock
Te extraño, extraño is housed within Lagala, home also to a gallery; Imox boutique, a terrace for events and a workshop room. It is intended as, and is, a very successful cultural hub within the city focused on food, art and design. Unassuming from the outside, residing in one of the many white colonial buildings Merida is known for, this cultural crossroads serves as a meeting point for the contemporary cultural narrative of the city and everyone is welcome.
Providing the place and food for thought is Te extraño, extraño. I met with Ana Carolina, one of the founders to discover more about the restaurant which serves throughout the day putting local and seasonal produce at the heart of its philosophy and meals...as well as take away kindness.
ECH: What were you doing before you set up Te extraño, extraño?
AC: I actually worked as a designer for six years! When I started we didn’t have places to study fashion therefore it was difficult to find original things because people weren’t used to expressing themselves with fashion. One year after I got to college they launched a fashion degree and that is how I started. I used to fly to the United States and to go to the flea markets as they don’t really exist here. I decided I wanted to create my own version here in Merida. The project started growing really quickly - we started with maybe fifteen brands and by the fourth edition I had one hundred.
We had a really small team of girls doing this for six years. I decided I wanted to target the expats who live here so created some english marketing and shared it in popular places with expats and a lot of expats came. I saw this as an opportunity to bring together two worlds that haven’t been together before - local designers and expats.
ECH: How did Te extraño, extraño start?
AC: I was taking part in a leadership programme when I met my business partner for Te extraño, extraño. I knew at the end of the course I wanted to start a new project and I wanted to create a community and give them a voice. I had been in fashion beforehand - I started a market for independent designers in Merida. It had been very successful and the individual designers had started to move on and start their own shops, at the end of the leadership programme I realised there was no need for the market anymore, it had served its purpose. My business partner suggested we start something together. We met on Tuesday and on Friday I found this place and knew it was the place we needed.
At the beginning we just wanted to curate a designers store but the place was actually very large so we decided to add a terrace, the restaurant, a workroom where we run workshops and also an art gallery.
ECH: What is behind the name Te extraño, extraño?
AC: There were a series of bad events in my life which concluded when I became sick too for around eight months. These things were very difficult at the time but I am grateful for them now. My illness meant I had a really restricted diet and had to completely change what I ate before that I was eating a lot of junk food.I started to experiment with flavours, I started to think a lot about only being able to eat real fresh foods.
This led me to think about the other superficial things in my life and how they were connected to my disease. I really started to look internally at who I am. I realised a lot of the time I was doing things I thought I should be, or things I thought I liked but didn’t really. And so I started to remove my mask. Te extraño, extraño means ‘I miss you stranger’ because when I started to understand myself I realised I didn’t know who I was, I had been chasing all the wrong things and not looking after myself. It is a love story for me. It is an invitation to fall in love with yourself, to get to know you and to experience life in different types of art.
ECH: How do you come up with the recipes?
AC: We worked with Joaquín Cardoso and Sofía Cortina on the menu who are Mexican chefs. They used to work at Carlota restaurant (Hotel Carlota in Cuauhtémoc) and then they went to Paris and now they work together in Mexico.
ECH: Is the menu changing?
AC: Yes, we have changed it three times now. Each time we are trying new flavours and trying to become more local. We try to source as locally as we possibly can but it is difficult for them to sell to restaurants because we are not consistent. On Sunday we actually have a daily market with local producers including coffee, cheese, wine, and Mescal.
ECH: You worked with the ceramics studio Menat to create your plates and dishes. Menat creates unique one off designs for each of their clients and yours includes hidden messages - can you tell us more about this?
AC: I really like poetry so most of the dishes have a secret message that you discover at the end of the meal. Not all of the phrases are mine but some of them are. We wanted people to receive nice messages. We receive a lot of messages and signs but we choose to ignore them, but you chose that meal and that dish chose you - there is a reason why you got that dish and what it says to you is important. I just thought it was a really nice thing to do, if someone is having a really bad day or questioning their life, maybe this message will help them feel a little better.
ECH: How did you design the space?
AC: I met the architects when I was part of the incubator (during the market) and we became very good friends during this time. I was so impressed by their work as there are not so many people doing contemporary art or design in Merida. It feels like we receive things five years after they were fashionable elsewhere! Merida has now become very stylish and very modern but it is a new thing.
They are called FMT estudio and are based in Merida and the same age as me. This was the first really big project for them, and it actually won two design awards in Mexico. My dad is an engineer so he helped us with the construction, my business partners father-in-law did the furniture, and my cousin did the branding. In the end, it was really a family effort. We had some fights but at the same time we love each other, and we would always wake up the next day and say “lets do this!”
ECH: You are from Merida - is it important to do this in Merida?
AC:Yes. A lot of my friends who are artists left Merida for Mexico City or other places. In the beginning, I was trying to do the same and then I understood that I have my mission and my mission is to do something for my community.
I do try to work with the government and the city - I want to collaborate with institutions and help move things forward. It is how I show I care about my community and often if you ask for help people are willing to give it. xx