Joel Welch

By Roberto Ontiveros
Photography by Marc Brown

Always hungry to explore new directions in food, Joel Welch—executive chef of hipster/home-style haven Kerbey Lane Cafe—dabbles in everything from food science to cultural anthropology. “I have traveled extensively throughout Mexico to places such as Oaxaca, and several beach towns in the state,” he says. “I’ve been to the Yucatán and the Pacific west coast. My favorite things about these places are the unique culture, friendly people and, of course, the food.” 

“I was in a little town near Mazatlán,” Welch remembers. “We were staying at a place on the end of the beach where a local proprietor had a place set up with hammocks, food and beer. We saw a fisherman bring up several freshly caught fish and the next thing you knew it was on the menu. The meal was quite simple: freshly made corn tortillas, a black-bean paste topped with queso fresco, fresh salsa verde and a lightly battered pan-fried fillet of fish with garnishes of cilantro and onion. It was fantastic and one of the first times I could really tell the difference between food I was accustomed to eating and food that had been prepared on the spot . . . fresh! The flavors were far more intense.”

Welch likes to prepare his food slowly, and puts as much positive mojo into the process as possible. He considers what he does in the kitchen more than simple food preparation, but a kind of transformative art. “That’s where the alchemy of cooking comes in,” he says with a smile. “Alchemy is basically the process of turning base metals into gold. I have ingredients, whatever they may be, and if I can manipulate those basic ingredients and create a dish that has everyone in awe over its taste and appearance, then isn’t that just like alchemy, except with food? I think so.”