Michel Font was born in Houston, Texas, and has lived in Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Dubai, and for the past 13 years, Mexico. After one year living in Guadalajara, Michel made the move to Sayulita, where he opened Tropical House 10 years ago. With an extensive history of working in the restaurant industry, including coming from a family restaurant, it’s no wonder he chose to make his mark in Sayulita in this way.
So, first off, how did your passion for cooking develop?
My grandfather was a French immigrant and one of the best chefs in Houston. I come from a family (on both my mom and dad’s side) with a long history of chefs and foodies. My family actually still has a 4-star restaurant and a winery in the states.
How did you get your start as a chef?
In college, I was a tennis player and when it came time for me to choose a major, I chose Hotel and Restaurant Management. So, that’s how it really started for me. After college, I became the general manager of a chain restaurant (out of Hawaii) in Houston called Auntie Pasto’s. I worked there for 10 years and helped to create part of the concept of the restaurant, including creating recipes.
What made you want to cook professionally in Sayulita?
After doing some restaurant consulting in Guadalajara, my friend brought me to Sayulita and it was like love at first sight. I had promised myself I was going to have another restaurant one day and I wanted a restaurant with a very chill environment, and Sayulita was the perfect place for it.
Are there any challenges to being a chef in Sayulita, what is harder and what is easier?
When I first opened Tropical House 10 years ago, suppliers were scarce. So, I made my menu thinking about what I could get on a consistent basis. I also had to get to know the culture here and the business ethnics. It was a process. However, as far as breaking into the restaurant market in Sayulita, I thought the town was much kinder than in the states.
How would you describe your culinary style?
Very much Mediterranean – both Southern and Northern, but I also make Italian food too. I especially like to cook with wine and garlic.
What do you like about being the chef at Tropical House?
The people in Sayulita, both the locals and tourists, really make it enjoyable and worth it. The people are what I love about Sayulita and they’re also the reason why I love owning and working at Tropical House.
What are your favorite, fresh from Sayulita ingredients to use?
Just about everything is really fresh at Tropical House. I’ve never had a restaurant before that had so many fresh ingredients. However, I really like to cook fish here. The quality is super fresh. Before, I never would have thought I would say this, but I make a typical dish from Nayarit – pescado zarandeado, a seasoned grilled fish. It has been a really big hit.
When creating a complete meal in Sayulita, what factors do you take into consideration?
I’m a big believer in moving the inventory I have on hand, so to me, freshness is the first thing I consider. To ensure the best freshness, I have a rule of thumb- I should have at least three dishes that utilize an ingredient. Take basil, for example. I use it for the pesto sauce, the tomato basil sauce, and the caprese salad. It could also be used to make a smoothie.
Do you have a signature dish? If so, what is it and how would you describe it?
Yes. We have an entrée selection where the guest chooses a protein (catch of the day, chicken, or shrimp) and then chooses a homemade sauce to go with it. We have a large selection of sauces (12 of them). Everything from gorgonzola to Veracruz to pesto to tomato basil. This dish comes with fresh veggies, rice, or pasta.
Will you share your most entertaining “kitchen disaster” story?
It was five years ago, on New Years day, the busiest day of the year, and the biggest day in the history of Tropical House, and we had no water or electricity. I had gone to Puerto Vallarta and got to the back door and saw that everything was dark. It was breakfast time and we couldn’t make cappuccinos, smoothies, and so many other things. The place was packed, but we did what we had to do to get through it.
What’s your favorite kitchen tool to use in Sayulita and why?
Pans. That’s what it’s all about in my kitchen. Everything goes into the pans and comes out a meal. Everything is cooked in the moment.
If you could recommend one other Sayulita restaurant other than yours, what would it be?
Don Pedro’s- I’ve always admired Nick as a chef.
If you had to choose a last meal, what would it be?
Comfort food, like meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, good mashed potatoes…