By CHRISTINA HARPER
Jose Antonio Pina Jr. has been an admirer of the late Frida Kahlo, the famed Mexican painter, since his days in junior high school.
That was when Pina, now 35, first saw her artwork and fell in love with Kahlo’s grace, elegance and style.
Pina decided to share his passion for Kahlo’s art and his recipes inspired by Kahlo’s love of food with Snohomish County residents in July 1998 when he opened his Mexican restaurant near Mill Creek and named it Frida’s.
Frida’s is a colorful, refined eatery that sits inconspicuously in a strip mall and offers diners what Pina calls gourmet Mexican food.
Pina concocts tasty feasts alongside chef J. Jesus Saucedo, and waits to hear what visitors have to say about their creations.
"Some people say, ‘This is not Mexican,’" Pina said. "It’s new to them."
It’s because of Kahlo’s inspiration that Pina and Saucedo cook the way they do.
Kahlo, who was married to Mexican artist Diego Rivera, started to paint at age 18 while hospitalized after a bus accident. She suffered from pain for the rest of her turbulent but colorful life, until her death in 1954 at the age of 47.
In 1983, 29 years after her death, Kahlo’s work was declared the property of Mexico.
"A very high honor," Pina said.
Along with Kahlo’s art came her love of food that so inspired Pina.
In his home town of Guadalajara there are only two other restaurants with gourmet Mexican food, Pina said.
He is proud, not only of the food served at Frida’s, but of the decorating style that he helped put together at the restaurant. Pictures of Kahlo and bold artsy colors adorn the walls next to Pina’s collection of 90 brands of tequila.
In the kitchen, one of Pina’s favorite ingredients is fruit. He makes salsas and sauces using exotic fruits as main ingredients and olive oil. Pina tries to make the food healthier than usual Mexican fare.
Saucedo, who loves to cook, grew up in the state of Michoacan and has fond memories of his mother making more ordinary dishes in their family restaurant. His favorite was a pork meal with vegetables, whole beans and Mexican cheese.
The 27-year-old Saucedo manages a trip back to Mexico about once a year to visit his family who he misses a lot, he said.
Pina tries to go home annually too and enjoys his mother’s visits to Snohomish County, especially when she brings new recipes for him to try, Pina said.
Pina and Saucedo offer traditional Mexican food as well as the fancier Frida fare but stress that their traditional offerings are more authentic than some diners may have tasted.
"People are surprised," Pina said. "They say, ‘Thank you,’ for introducing the other side of Mexico."
Gallina De GuineaAl Mango(Cornish HensWith Mango Sauce)
6small Cornish game hens about 11/2 pounds each
1teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6tablespoons melted butter
3/4cup drained canned mangoes
11/2cups syrup from canned mangoes
1tablespoon brown sugar
Remove the giblets and sprinkle the hens with pepper.
In a blender, puree the garlic, salt and water. Pour over the hens and marinate, refrigerated, for two hours.
To make the sauce, puree the syrup and mangoes. In a small skillet, melt butter, add the puree and brown sugar and stir. When the mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat and set aside.
About one hour before serving, preheat oven to 500 degrees and place the hens, breast side down, in a large greased baking pan. Baste with melted butter and bake for 15 minutes.
Turn the hens breast side up and bake for another 15 minutes, basting frequently.
Lower heat to 375 degrees, turn the hens again and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven, drain the juices from the pan and stir in the mango sauce.
Turn the hens breast side up and baste with the mango sauce. Bake for another five to seven minutes or until they are golden brown.
Serve immediately, garnished with the extra pieces of mango.
Pina and Saucedo’sRecipe For Success
Their restaurant: Frida’s Mexican Restaurant, 3226 132nd St. SE, near Mill Creek; 425-357-8606.
Favorite food: Jose Antonio Pina Jr. loves Thai food because of the spices, the same reason that J. Jesus Saucedo likes Chinese food.
Favorite kitchen tool: Both chefs agree that a good knife is their favorite tool. Chefs fight over the best one in Frida’s kitchen, Saucedo said.
Favorite chef: Susanna Palazuelos, a Mexican chef.
Chef’s tip: Try using different kinds of peppers to enhance the flavors of food. They don’t have to be spicy peppers, Pina said.