Move continents. Learn a new language. Oh, and open a restaurant. Some people dream of doing it. Aracely Martinez de Mantler has done it.
I first met Aracely in 1999 when we attended the same youth summer camp in Maine. I, along with HAND + SEED’s Experimental Chef Younes Khazour’s wife from Australia, was her camp counselor, and we bunked in the same cabin.
Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, Aracely is one of the most well-traveled people I know. The only continent she hasn’t been to is Antarctica, and she can speak three languages fluently: English, Spanish and German. Along the way, she’s developed a deep and unparalleled appreciation for food and culture. If you’re looking for a spot off the beaten path in a faraway place, Aracely can tell you about them all.
Now, 17 years after we first met, Aracely has joined HAND + SEED as our founding restauranteur. She’s currently living in Austria, and has just opened a restaurant with her husband. We’ll follow Aracely as she navigates entrepreneurship and running a restaurant abroad.
I caught up with Aracely this week. Here’s what she had to say about her new adventure.
First things first: how did you get into cooking?
My father was passionate about good eating and cooking. He grew up in a house where only women cooked, but after he married my mom he started learning and experimenting. Over the years, he taught me. It became a ritual and a tradition to try new recipes, and going to new restaurants to enjoy good food.
What brought you to Austria?
I came to Austria for the first time in January 2011, after finishing my master’s in marketing in Monterrey. I wanted to learn a new language and look for places to start a PhD.
I met my husband Johannes during the first few weeks. After a few months of dating, I had to move back to Mexico for a family emergency. Johannes followed me two weeks later. We got engaged and married in Mexico. In June 2012, we returned to Austria for the first time to live as a couple.
We live in a little town called Absdorf in Lower Austria, where Johannes was born. Our restaurant is located there too. It’s 30 minutes from Vienna.
What do you know about the locally-grown crops?
Our town is in the middle of a wine zone, and a 45-minute car ride away is one of the most famous apricot areas in Austria – the Wachau Valley. Near us farmers grow corn, potatoes, wheat, asparagus, white turnips, pumpkins, strawberries, leeks…
What do you like about food in Austria? What are some of the typical dishes?
I like that people take advantage of the seasonal fruits and vegetables. In the beginning I had to get used to the flavors, but now I really like them. My favorite dish is zwiebel roastbraten, which is a thinly-pounded steak served with onions and gravy.
Austrians commonly eat dishes like wiener schnitzel with potato salad, or tafelspitz, which is beef in broth served with minced apples and horseradish. Many things are fried, and incorporate parsley in some way. Austrian cuisine is also known for apple strudel, sweet plates and good chocolate. People will eat bread with ham, salamis or cheese for a good meal.
Those are interesting dishes. What inspired you to open a restaurant?
Johannes and I are passionate about food and traveling. We love to eat fresh and homemade dishes. I have always dreamt about having my own restaurant or food business. I can’t believe it’s happening.
Tell us about the name. What does it mean?
The restaurant is called ARIS Cantina. ARIS comes from my name. Everyone in Austria calls me Ari or Aris. We decided to use “Cantina” to add some Spanish into the name.
What type of food will you serve?
We just opened our doors this summer, and are experimenting with a small menu. We’re getting to know our customers and waiting to start daily specials and a bigger menu. We serve breakfast, desserts, burgers and of course, always something Mexican – like tacos or quesadillas.
My mother-in-law gave me many Austrian recipes. I picked up all of the others from traveling or experimenting.
What’s the look and feel of ARIS Cantina?
We are in the process of upgrading the restaurant and only the patio is open for business. The restaurant’s design is completely different from what you can find around town. We are bringing something modern and casual, not the typical Austrian gasthaus, which is a German-style tavern or inn.
What do you miss about food in Mexico?
I can get many products here that I can use in Mexican recipes, but the flavors will never be 100 percent authentic. Avocados, mangos and different types of chili are the things I wish I would have all the time here.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
The language. I can speak German, but it’s still difficult and I’m still learning. Also, I’m always afraid that people won’t like my seasoning because it’s different than what they’re used to.
Finally, what excites you the most about opening a restaurant?
I love adventures and new challenges in life. Doing what I love, sharing it with people and having them enjoy their time with us really excites me.