Chef Israel Alvarez Molina of Maiiz Nixtamal uses a technique inspired by the Mesoamerican Nixtamalization tradition. When eating a Nixtamal Taco you don’t just taste the corn, you taste the process. With the pandemic still a part of our lives, small businesses, such as Maiiz Nixtamal, need our help to stay open and survive the financial difficulties of our present circumstances.
Using both Certified Organic Corn, grown in Armstrong BC, and Mexican corn, Chef Israel Alvarez Molina makes high quality and delicious tortillas. He uses a technique called Nixtamalization, inspired by the traditional Mesoamerican process. Creating tortillas this way maintains nutritional integrity and increases the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients. They are “more than just authentic”. You can order these fabulous tortillas through their website or find them in local stores and restaurants.
What is your background?
“I started my career at Pujol restaurant in Mexico City, where I quickly became the Chef De Cuisine. Working at that level of restaurant taught me a lot about attention to detail, high standards, and the drive that it takes to push at a higher level. I moved to Edmonton in 2008 to start over after experiencing kidnapping. When I got my permeant resident status I decided to take a trip to the West Coast and fell in love with Vancouver Island. I when I returned to Edmonton I started doing pop-up dinners, culinary classes, and events all focusing on traditional Mexican Cuisine. When I gained my Canadian Citizenship I decided to make the move and call Victoria home and brought with me the process of turning corn kernels into a superfood. Shortly after arriving to the city, I started a Nixtamal Taco menu at the restaurant I was working and started to educate with locals and visitors the process of Nixtamalization and the true potential of Mexican cuisine. I returned to Pujol last January to redefine myself and to find inspiration from the best of the best. I don’t think I would be doing what I am right now without the inspiration and work that Chef Enrique did to bring Nixtamalization back into restaurants. I feel so fortunate to have been embraced by my community here on Vancouver Island. I have been welcomed by so many and the support of my friends and the community is humbling.”
What made you want to open your business?
“I am a Chef, what makes me happy is feeding people good food. When I first came to Canada I couldn’t find a Tortilla like the ones I left behind in Mexico. With the loss of my identity, I felt like a piece of me was missing. I would eat tacos with Tortillas made with mixing powders, and I knew there was something better out there, Nixtamal. If you know better, do better. I decided to make it my mission to share the flavour and nutritional value of Nixtamal with as many people as possible. When my job as a Chef ended due to COVID I decided that I would start building MAiiZ starting with popup dinners and small weekly Nixtamal Tortilla sales working out of other kitchens. The reception surpassed my imagination. Our first Tortilla sale sold out in only a few hours, and I knew that this was the right time and place to reclaim Nixtamal Tortillas.”
What makes your business special?
“There is no one else doing what I do. The process of Nixtamalization is a highly specialized craft that I have been perfecting my entire career. Being able to use Organic BC Grown corn kernels is a privilege that I am grateful for. I have so much respect for Mexican Cuisine and the culinary heritage of the country I grew up in, but I am now a British Columbian, and showcasing the terroir of this region is important to me. I want to reduce the environmental impact of my business, and using organic corn sourced locally allows me to do that. I think these values of local, natural, sustainable, and authenticity really resonate with Victorians.”
What inspires you?
“My family and my heritage inspire. I just want to share Nixtamal in my new home. I love corn, as a Mexican, it is a part of me. I love that I can showcase the backbone of Mexico in different colours and that I can use corn that is grown in Canada to do the same. That’s amazing. I never thought I would be able to find corn that would make such amazing Tortillas in British Columbia. Every time someone comes to my shop and tries their first bite of a Nixtamal Tortilla their realization of what corn can create inspires me to work harder. I want to showcase types of corn that most Canadians don’t know about, they only know corn as sweet that comes on a cob and is a vegetable. But they never have been exposed to anything like this before, unless they’ve been to the places in Mexico that still use Nixtamalization. I want to reclaim and revitalize this part of my heritage and share it with as many people as possible.”
“I chose to move to Victoria because it is the capital of British Columbia. Downtown Victoria is such a vibrant community to be a part of. The balance of locals and visitors allows me to bring more exposure to MAiiZ and the process of Nixtamalization while being part of a supportive and stable community. I live in Downtown Victoria, it’s a beautiful place to live and showcase my project. I want to make history in a place that is already rich with history.”
What advice would you give to others who want to start a business? What would you have liked to know before you opened yours?
“Be ready to grind, and grind hard. The work never stops, but working for yourself has an element of freedom. Have a team that is as dedicated and passionate to support you. Without passion you have nothing. Have vision, have commitment, and bring something that is unique to the table.”
How to find MaiiZ Nixtamal:
Maiiz Nixtamal is currently located at 10 Fan Tan Alley, for order pick up. You can also find their delicious tortillas in stores around Greater Victoria. They can be reached through their website and you can find them on Instagram.