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Finding his inner fiesta

By Valerie Osipov ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-07-03 08:16:09

Finding his inner fiesta

Signature dishes offered by Pebbles Courtyard include chips and dips (top) and 'streetstyle' tacos (above).[Photo By Hannah Adamson/For China Daily]

As a Chinese chef strives to produce authentic Mexican food in Beijing, he savors a new mentor in Rick Bayless, Valerie Osipov reports.

Sizzling fajitas, enchiladas, hearty burritos and tacos: These dishes can be found across Mexico, areas of the American southwest, and yes, tucked away in a cozy hutong in Beijing.

Located at the center of Wudao-ying Hutong, Pebbles Courtyard has expanded into a wider dining room, a renovation that inspired the name change from Sand Pebbles Lounge.

Chinese owner and chef Ray Heng learned the ins-and-outs of Mexican cuisine on YouTube, his first teacher, followed by a solo trip to the country, which inspired his career. Most recently, he got a chance to work with celebrity chef Rick Bayless in his Chicago flagship restaurant.

The opportunity came last winter, thanks to a small bag of Chinese dried chilies and a whole lot of luck. Heng had left the chilies as a thank-you for Bayless at his establishment in Chicago during a visit to the United States. Intrigued to hear about a Chinese chef passionate about Mexican cuisine, Bayless visited Heng's restaurant last year while on a visit to Beijing, and later he invited Heng to return to the Windy City, as Chicago is known, and learn the tricks of the trade.

A friend and I made our way to a row of empty tables under the sky-view window, which partially covers the new courtyard, filling the room with natural light.

Images of Mexican landscapes and culture line the walls, and collectibles fill the crevices and corners. "The concept we're trying to have is comfort dining. Street-food. Nothing fancy," Heng says modestly.

As a starter, we chose the sampler of chips and dips, festively served on a bright pink sombrero. Delightfully cheesy.

The corn chips were subtle, perhaps not to mask the savory dipping options - frijoles charros (smoked beans), juicy pico-de-gallo, homemade beef chili, grilled corn and pepper guacamole, and chile arbol, a common choice among Chinese customers.

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