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Downtown Disney's Chef Carlos Gaytán is Having a Moment

Our culinary columnist shares the story behind Chef Carlos Gaytán, responsible for three new Downtown Disney dining outlets.

Chef Carlos Gaytán. Photo courtesy of Patina Restaurant Group
 

Downtown Disney opened four dining outlets in the past two months; three – Paseo, Centrico and Tiendita – were concepts by celebrated Mexican Chef Carlos Gaytán. Chef Gaytán takes the time to share more about the establishments and himself.


Paseo’s Cuisine

When I was in Chicago last year, I walked by a restaurant named Tzuco with Chef Gaytán’s name on the signage. I questioned how similar or different Paseo and Tzuco would be comparatively. He said that differences lie primarily in the ingredients, as Gaytán aims to source local products in both Chicago and Anaheim. While they share similar concepts, the local produce and flavors bring distinct characteristics to each restaurant. 


“At Tzuco, you’ll find dishes that embody the vibrant essence of Chicago’s diverse culinary scene, influenced by the city’s rich cultural tapestry,” Gaytán said. “In contrast, Paseo in Downtown Disney incorporates the fresh, seasonal ingredients unique to Southern California, offering a distinct twist on traditional Mexican cuisine.” 


Both restaurants reflect Gaytán’s devotion to blending traditional Mexican flavors with more modern techniques. However, each one is uniquely shaped by its region and the ingredients at hand. This specific approach will allow a chef to highlight regional details and create a dining experience celebrating both tradition and innovation. “Whether you’re dining at Tzuco or Paseo, you can expect a culinary journey that honors my heritage while sharing the local gastronomic landscape,” he said.

Brunch Chilaquiles at Paseo. Photo courtesy of Patina Restaurant Group
From Dishwasher to Michelin Star

Gaytán’s culinary story began while he was a boy cooking with his mother in Mexico. However his formal training began as a dishwasher, then on to the level of cook at Sheraton’s North Shore Hotel in Chicago. It was at this point when Gaytan began honing his craft from garde manger (preparing cold items such as salads and cheeses) to the role of banquet chef at the Union League Club of Chicago. A desire to focus on French cuisine had him working under Chef Dominique Tougne at Bistro Margot in the city. After his time at the bistro, he opened Mexique – a hybrid of French and Mexican cooking methods and flavors. 


His determination paid off and Gaytán would earn his first Michelin star in November 2012 for Mexique, his previous restaurant in Chicago. It made him the first Mexican-born chef to earn this honor. “I’m incredibly humbled to represent my birth country and continue to reflect the flavors of my hometown in my cooking every day,” Gaytán said. In 2013, he competed on “Top Chef: New Orleans,” placing fifth.



Just a few weeks ago, his restaurant Ha’ in Mexico appeared in Michelin’s first-ever guide for the country, allowing him once again to celebrate his heritage. In fact, he couldn’t be more excited and deeply grateful for his team and all their hard work.


By 2018, Gaytán was ready for a change. He closed Mexique to conduct research and development back in Mexico. It was during this time that Gaytán expanded his understanding of his culture. “In 2019, I opened Tzuco where I’ve had the rewarding opportunity to mentor young, aspiring chefs who want to get involved in the world of gastronomy,” he said.


When I asked whether he preferred applicants who have attended culinary school before pursuing hands-on work experience, he believes both paths can lead to success in the culinary world, depending on the individual’s dedication and passion. “Personally, I did not attend culinary school. My mother taught me how to cook, and my grandfather taught me how to harvest, cultivate the land and hunt,” Gaytán said. These passed-along traditions were invaluable and shaped his approach to cooking.


He knows culinary school provides a structured education and technical skills. “Hands-on experience in a kitchen teaches resilience, adaptability and the realities of working in a fast-paced environment. Both educational paths have their merits, but what truly matters is the love for the craft and the continuous desire to learn and grow,” he said.


At the opening of Paseo in Downtown Disney, from left on the stage: Mariachi Divas, Mickey Mouse, Chef Carlos Gaytán, Minnie Mouse, Jason Smith (Disneyland Resort), Jerry Jacobs Jr. (Delaware North), John "JK" Kolaski (Patina Restaurant Group) and Jada Young (Disneyland Resort). Photo courtesy of Patina Restaurant Group

Deciding on Downtown Disney

In his youth, Gaytán used to visit the Disneyland Resort. He considers it a dream come true to oversee three eateries: full-service Paseo ($15-$65), Centrico cantina ($6-$36) and quick service Tiendita ($10-$15) on site. (Disney’s continued partnership with Patina Restaurant Group, which collaborated with Chef Gaytán, resulted in bringing these three concepts to Downtown Disney.)


The opportunity to share his cuisine and culture with the community is special to him. “I couldn’t think of a better place to debut these concepts than at Disney – a place where everyone is welcome and family is celebrated, since my own family was an inspiration to me and integral to getting me here today,” he said.


The dishes of Gaytán's Anaheim restaurants are reimagined versions of the tastes from chef’s childhood in Huitzuco in Guerrero, Mexico. “Everyone coming to Paseo must try the Cochinita Pibil, a pork recipe derived directly from my mother’s recipe, which has been painstakingly recreated and even received the stamp of approval by her!” Gaytán said.


At Centrico, chef recommends the Caesar salad plated with Mexican flair; it’s a favorite during lunch service. Tiendita draws inspiration from street food in Mexico. He suggests Tiendita’s expertly marinated tacos al pastor and esquites, “a favorite that transcends borders. Here our corn is cooked in broth, seasoned and garnished with lime, chili powder, mayonnaise and cheese for a hearty take,” he said.


Chef Gaytán expressed his gratitude to everyone who has supported his journey; from his early days in Mexico to his ventures in Chicago and beyond. “Cooking is not just a profession for me; it’s a way to connect with my heritage and share the rich flavors and traditions of my culture.” He’s also deeply thankful for his team’s dedication to make everything possible.


“I also want to encourage aspiring chefs to follow their passion, whether through formal education or hands-on experience. The culinary world is vast and full of opportunities, and there is no single path to success. Embrace your roots, stay curious, and never stop learning,” Gaytán said.


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