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Day in the Life: Daniele Dessi, head chef of Edinburgh's El Cartel

Daniele Dessi tells us what it’s like working at the new Roxburgh branch of this Mexican restaurant, where he makes over 1000 tortillas a day

Published: September 14, 2021
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7am

I usually wake up around now. I don’t like alarms so rely on my own body clock. The day starts with a double espresso, which I take outside to the garden where I check on my plants. I have blackberries, an avocado plant and lots of nice herbs and flowers. Then I take the dog – a Jack Russell/dachshund cross – for a quick but energetic walk.

7.45am

On a school day, I wake up my nine-year-old son so we can have breakfast together. That’s usually Italian biscuits with another double espresso for me and milk for him with pancakes, if we have time, then I’ll have fresh fruit and yoghurt. As I work long shifts, this is an ideal time for us to talk and spend some quality time together.

10am

A day’s shift at El Cartel (the new Roxburgh branch) starts at 10am. I like to be in a bit earlier to get organised, so when the team arrives everyone knows exactly what needs to be done. The real push is between 11am and noon. We make more than 1000 tortillas every day. Using masa harina corn flour, imported from Mexico, we mix the dough, roll and press the tortillas, then cook and keep them warm in a hot box where they steam for a nice softness. It might seem like a lot of effort but soft tortillas are the authentic Mexican way.

12pm

Service begins. We don’t have a traditional menu of starters and mains. The food is served when it’s ready. This is how street food should be: hot and eaten with your hands, so you can enjoy all the flavours at once.

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2pm

Our lunch is a social time. This is when we might discuss new dishes and ideas. Team spirit is important, so we try and get everyone involved in the creative process. I’ll chat through everything with my sous-chef, finish off paperwork and start the process of setting up for the evening.

6pm

Some days I’ll finish now and be home by 6.30pm. I’ll shower, then prepare the family meal. I love to cook and I’m very picky about food, so my wife has learned to leave it to me. This is also when I’ll experiment and try new recipes for the restaurant. My wife is Mexican and I’m lucky that her family share their cooking secrets with me, so I have a lot of inspiration. Dinner is a sacred time in our house, there’s no telly in the background and no phones allowed at the table.

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9pm

My son is in bed, so it’s time for a nice glass of red wine and a movie with my wife. Perfect relaxation.

11pm

If I’m on a late shift, I won’t be home until now. The family will be asleep, but I’ll stay up to plan everything for the next day. I’ll plan it hour by hour, so I can hit the ground running when my body clock wakes me in around seven hours’ time.

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El Cartel Roxburgh has opened at 1 Roxburgh’s Court, 323 High Street, Edinburgh (0131 220 5924, www.elcartelmexicana.co.uk)

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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