Is Concord ready for gourmet chef Julian Lopez-Kelly? – Independent Marine Journal

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Chef Julián Lopez-Kelly’s fascination with food began in the Chiapas jungle.

He was just a child from a family of coffee farmers in Oaxaca. After playing kickball on the Mexican coffee plantation with his cousins, Lopez-Kelly would sneak into the kitchen of his grandfather’s house and watch the cooks turn chili peppers and chocolate into jars of glittering taupe negro. He was amazed.

“They had a pot full of little chocolate balls,” recalls the chef, who is Mexican-American. “I always put my hand in it when they weren’t looking.”

Lopez-Kelly has reinvented these flavors from home to Molli restaurant and lounge, a new gourmet restaurant which opened its doors this week in the Todos Santos de Concord square. Located inside the former Agave Grill at 1935 Galindo St., Molli is inspired by Lopez-Kelly’s animated pop-up of the same name. The emphasis is on dishes from around the world cooked through the prism of Oaxacan cuisine. Expect dinner to start Thursday through Sunday, with plans to add breakfast and brunch soon.

The restaurant is still owned by Agave owner Reyes Ramos, but Lopez-Kelly runs the kitchen. And the bar program. And made all the desserts. And daily shopping for fresh ingredients – only at Concord. Most executive chefs have a team, but Lopez-Kelly does it all. And that’s after finishing his day job as manager of La Fontaine de Concord crêpe, which is owned by his good friend Sam Kheriji, also owner of Walnut Creek Brioche de Paris.

“I’ve always had two jobs,” says the 36-year-old, who has spent years teaching high school by day. “I just need one day a week that I don’t come in until noon, so I can do the laundry and things. A lot of my fellow teachers couldn’t imagine working nights and teaching, but having a second job always really focused me.

His previous experience includes stints at Dia Y Noche and Teleferic Barcelona, ​​both in Walnut Creek, and at Puesto in Concord, where he was a bartender. But it was at his most recent concert, the six-month-old pop-up at La Fritanguera de Concord, where Lopez-Kelly won an audience for his unique mole presentations – salad dressings, for example, or spring rolls. – as well as pizzabirria.

Dry-aged duck breast is served with purple potatoes and a hibiscus sauce at Molli Restaurant & Lounge in Concord. The new, globally-inspired Latin restaurant run by executive chef Julian Lopez-Kelly has taken over the old Agave space from Todos Santos Plaza. (Jane Tyska / Bay Area News Group)

“It’s cheese and birria meat served on a large tortilla, like a pizza, with broth for dipping,” he says. “My birria is something that I have cultivated over the years.”

These dishes are on the menu alongside rib eye steaks that Lopez-Kelly ages for up to 60 days, duck breast served with whipped purple potatoes and blueberry and hibiscus sauce and Tres leches tobacco ice cream served with a prickly pear sorbet balancing the palate.

“I’ve always had this idea of ​​doing high-end catering, something different that doesn’t really exist at Concord,” he says.

Is Concord ready? Lopez-Kelly believes his food is affordable. Entrees cost up to $ 38 (that generous duck breast, served with a confit leg), but that’s not uncommon in nearby towns like Walnut Creek and Lafayette. And there are plenty of options to suit the wallet, including a rotating selection of street tacos: guajillo shrimp with cilantro coleslaw and arbol chili aioli; Skirt steak marinated with chimichurri, blueberry hibiscus and queso sauce; and pollo pibil, marinated chicken Yucatan style with marinated red onions.

What attracts him most in the kitchen is to marry the flavors of different cuisines, or to bring a new perspective to a dish, like manchamanteles, a dark red mole from Oaxacan that the chef serves with grilled pineapple, plaintains and a bone-in pork chop instead of having these elements mixed in a traditional stew.

“The kitchen is a blank canvas where you can do everything,” he says.

Lopez-Kelly moved to the United States for his high school education, settled in New Hampshire, and worked as a diver in a restaurant at age 14. a small bistro.

After graduation – Lopez-Kelly has a master’s degree in economics and literary theory – he returned to Mexico, where he opened a small bar and restaurant. He decided to return to the United States after the birth of his daughter, teaching Spanish language and literature at a boarding school in Pennsylvania, where he often cooked for students.

“A lot of the kids were international and a lot of them were homesick, so they would show up at my door with a steak or other ingredients and ask me to do something to them,” he recalls.

A teaching job at Carondelet High School drew Lopez-Kelly to the Bay Area. A few years later, during his pandemic pop-up, he was approached to make Molli permanent.

“We made a small partnership,” he says. “I can’t wait to see where this goes. “


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