Apicius Alum: Omar Armas
After leaving Florence and travelling the globe, gaining experience in top-ranked restaurants,
Apicius Alumni Omar Armas tells us about deciding to open his own restaurant, Mantou Gastropub, in his hometown of Ensaneda Baja California, Mexico
Tell us about yourself, how you ended up at FUA, and what you’ve been up to since graduation.
I'm from the port of Ensenada Baja California Mexico, home of some of the best seafood and wines of the country!
After highschool I had no idea what I wanted to do, so after 3 different majors and finally dropping out of university, I decided a first year in the working world would help me get my ideas in place.
I found a job in a pizzeria as a dishwasher, not really thinking about becoming a chef but just making a living. To my greatest surprise I found myself working my way up to the hot station, and loving each step.
My brother suggested I go to culinary school if that was what I was really passionate about, so based on my job experience and being an absolute pasta fan, Italy came as a natural choice.
I searched for different schools and Apicius seemed to have the expertise and atmosphere that was right for me. I spent two years from 2006 to 2008 for Culinary and Hospitality studies. During my time at Apicius, I truly fell in love with culinary arts and decided to make it my career.
Everyday in Florence was just amazing! The city is an open-air museum, the Tuscan culture so rich, the food exquisite, there is history around every corner! Apicius and its professors are simply at a world-class level. The whole team was incredible.
When I finished school, I felt so enriched by my experience abroad that I just wanted to keep traveling and learning, and I found my starting point in Playa del Carmen Mexico in Banyan Tree hotels. I started off in the hotel cafetería cooking for almost 1000 employees for 6 months. Thanks to my professional preparation and background, I was transferred to the signature Thai restaurant, Saffron. I worked there for 18 months, 14 hours a day with one day off a week.
After that, I was promoted by my executive chef and he took me as his second to work in Macau, China for a grand opening hotel and casino. I spent a year in Macau, learning so much and so many different things that afterwards, I felt eager to continue learning. I decided to move on and looked for restaurants in the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants ranking. I interned at Quique Dacosta in Spain, D.O.M. in São Paulo, Brazil, and worked at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in NYC, and was blessed to work with such amazing chefs!
Finally, after 8 years of travelling, I decided it was time to begin a project of my own. So in July 2015, after two years of planning, sacrifice, and hard work, I opened my own restaurant in my hometown: Mantou Gastropub.
It wasn't easy, and to be honest, the first year I thought we wouldn’t make it. But after almost two years, we are now positioned as #14 out of 310 restaurants in Ensenada on TripAdvisor and we were recently visited by BBC news team and Food&TravelMX. Things are starting to look up!
I hope to make it my life project to improve and innovate cuisine in my hometown and eventually take the concept abroad.
How has what you learned at FUA helped you in opening your own restaurant? Tell us a little more about Mantou GastroPub.
FUA taught me to not to be afraid of making mistakes, that out of a mistake something bigger and better can emerge. In fact, at my restaurant we are currently considered the most innovative place in town, thanks to a culture of risk-taking and thinking outside the box.
The name “Mantou” comes from our signature dish which in Mandarin means “steamed bun.”
Our concept is to use local market ingredients to make authentic recipes. Everything that we serve our clients is made at the restaurant: our aiolis, ice creams, pastas, vinegars (which we ferment and let acidify for 3 months), our bread made from hops, we smoke our own products… We also serve only top quality local wines and craft beers, we have our own enologist in the house, my wife, who handpicks what we pour.
One of the most important things I learned at FUA, and something that is still so important in my work today, is respect and care: for our suppliers, for the ingredients, for our clients, and for our team.
What advice do you have for future FUA students?
Focus not only on your professional learning which is of course is fundamental, but also take the time to learn the language and completely absorb the Tuscan culture. It will enrich your personal path so much more!
Check out Omar's restaurant, in person or on social media!
Ave Adolfo López Mateos #2030-A, Colonia Granados
Ensenada, Mexico 22840