The Gjelina Group’s restaurants and shops have been homes away from home, sources of inspiration, and places to celebrate.
The origin of my company, Masienda (a marketplace for heirloom corn and masa harina, single-origin ingredients, cookware and homegoods, sourced from Mexico) is interconnected with chef Juan’s origin story. Both start in the same place: Oaxaca’s Central Valley. Juan is from San Bartolomé, a village just a stone’s throw from his cousin, Chef Pedro’s, native San Marcos Tlapazola, a Zapotec village known for their artisan-made red clay ceramics. San Marcos Tlapazola is where I first tried the Yellow Bolita varietal of corn that was the kernel of inspiration behind Masienda—the we-should-start-a-company-around-this-because-it's-so-good kind of good.
To this day, much of the corn we work with is from the same communities Gjelina’s kitchen staff is from, and it’s a story that plays out across their growing constellation of concepts.
When Masienda first started in 2014, we were a B2B brand, selling heirloom corn and masa harina to chefs across the country. We started providing corn for Gjelina (https://gjelina.com/la/)’s house-ground polenta, then Gjusta’s pork pozole, and eventually supplied them with our very own heirloom corn tortillas for their signature huevos rancheros. During the pandemic, we almost shut down. But there was this “a-ha!” moment when people started ordering samples from our website who weren’t chefs. It was that flash-craze of over-ordering anything edible you could find, when stores were selling out of flour to supply all the home bakers.
As restaurants pivoted to become online grocers, we did too, and we started selling more than just corn and masa harina. We became an online marketplace for everything from single-origin ingredients like beans and coffee to tools and homegoods. In fact, the ceramics we now sell from La Chicharra in Oaxaca come from a family member of one of Gjelina’s cooks.
And as our business grew, and our travels to farms, molinos and tortillerías in Oaxaca began to inform our product line, I started work on my first book, MASA: Techniques, Recipes, and Reflections on a Timeless Staple. It’s a deep dive into all things masa but more importantly, a tribute to the hands, lands, and heritage of Mexican corn. I knew right away that I wanted the book to be shot by Graydon Herriott, the brilliant duo behind the Gjelina cookbook, The Cook You Want to Be, and Nothing Fancy. And when I was thinking about which chefs would best represent masa’s history, present and future, my friend Chef Juan was one of the first who came to mind. His recipe for asiento, typically enjoyed spread on the large-format huaraches of his hometown, is one of the richest, most savory and delicious spreads I’ve ever tasted. Asiento is often used as a cooking fat, but Juan’s version, which includes bits of pork in it, truly sings as a topping. What the finest French butter is to a baguette, Juan’s asiento is to a tortilla (or any masa shape, for that matter). I’m truly honored to feature Juan’s personal recipe in MASA, and hope that next time you stop in to Gjusta Grocer, you’ll pick up our masa harina or Pura Macha salsa macha." — Jorge Gaviria