Hidden treasures off the high street
Brighton’s Open Market, between London Road and The Level, sits far away from the main throng. It rarely sees the hordes of day trippers that wash in from the station and flood down to the seafront (a scene that hasn’t changed since Graham Greene wrote about it in the opening of Brighton Rock in 1938). For the curious adventurer, however, the Open Market is a smorgasbord of independent businesses, operating at a personal level. When it comes to finding great food, this can be the place to go for those in the know.
Meet Gabriel Gutierrez
One such place is Taquitos Casazul (Blue House), situated on The Level side of the market. It’s owned by Gabriel Gutierrez, who tells me he’s been working in the catering industry for 34 years.
I mentally try and calculate Gabriel’s age. A lifelong career in hospitality, and he still springs around his cafe with its open kitchen as though he were a teenager on his first day. He’s a walking advert for his passion for an holistic approach to food and sustainability for our health and the planet. He radiates vitality.
Sustainability for small business
When talking about sustainability with Gabriel, you know you’re getting way more than placation and ‘greenwashing’. “Sustainability is a big word”, is how he begins, but that doesn’t mean a small business can’t face the challenge. Prior to opening Casazul, Gabriel worked at the University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies, where everything was zero waste, so he brings to his family run operation a level of cutting-edge expertise.
“We have to educate ourselves”, says Gabriel, “big companies can say they’re sustainable and environmental, and we believe them, but what that can mean isn’t exact, and it can sometimes mean whatever they want it to mean.”
It’s with this rigorous attention that he selects his own suppliers, choosing locally and seasonally where possible and vetting them carefully. “Start with good ingredients and everything else follows”, he says.
Gabriel believes in an holistic approach to food for health too; eat seasonally, eat naturally. Sustainability is a big word, yes, and its implications apply personally as well as globally.
Traditional and natural preservation
Having said that, a lot of what Gabriel uses isn’t new in terms of technology. Nearly all of his takeaway products are packaged in reusable containers. During the lockdowns of 2020-21 he developed a finish at home taco kit. He uses glass instead of plastic where possible, which you can return and get 50p off your next purchase, per glass item you return. Even the labels are secured to the bottles with rubber bands, so they’re easy to remove and reuse.
To help preserve his food Gabriel avoids chemicals, preferring natural methods such as apple cider vinegar, a little salt or sugar. He used government funding to buy a blast chiller and fridges which are the more modern ways of preserving foods.
Zero food waste
Another aspect that’s important to Gabriel’s zero waste ethos is keeping the menu small. “The bigger the menu, the more waste there is” he says. His products are laboratory tested and ensured to be fresh for 14 days. The components of his menu are prepared and kept in the fridge for seven days for takeaway and finish at home kits. After seven days, what’s left over goes back into the kitchen for dining in. This way, no food ever gets wasted.
Eating at Casazul
While we’re chatting, I also get fed. Casazul is about as authentic as you’ll get without travelling to Mexico (and we all need to cut down on our carbon footprint, so much better in that respect too). One exception to actually being in Mexico (and I speak from personal experience, here) is that you’ll find a vegan equivalent to everything traditionally meat or animal based on Gabriel’s menu.
It’s a hot day and I start with a vegan Horchata by recommendation from Gabriel. I’ve never been a fan of milk and milky drinks, particularly. But what starts as politeness turns into a newfound love affair for the deliciously refreshing, sweetly spiced drink.
To get my tastebuds tingling, I have some chipotle bread with a few of Gabriel’s homemade salsas, including Chipotle Salsa. I’m a fiend for chipotle which is more smokey and warm than insanely hot, although I like hot too. Chipotle rolls around the mouth for ages after you’ve finished eating, delivering layer after layer of smokey depth. The Salsa Botenera gives me my heat kick with additionally pleasingly sweet and nutty hints from the stoned fruit, seeds and nuts.
Lastly, I have three Tacos de Cochinita. Well, the mushroom alternative, no ‘little pigs’ for me. Oyster mushrooms make a fine alternative to pulled pork (in my opinion) certainly preferable to jackfruit for their meatiness. These are cooked with spices and a hint of citrus which compliments the meaty flavour. They’re served in a naturally blue taco (there are around 300 types of corn and about 15 are suitable for tacos) and topped with pickled red onions.
The combination is delicious. Each mouthful is a balance of the spiced and zingy ‘meat’ crisp onion and savoury taco. I’m ramping up the heat with more salsas because I’m a masochist, but it doesn’t need it. Gabriel’s enthusiasm for simple food made with quality ingredients shines through.