Drayton & Taverham

Chef brings a taste of homestyle Mexican dining to Norwich

Just Regional
Jul 12, 2016 3 mins read

A move to Norwich to bring a taste of homestyle Mexican dining to the city was a new start for chef-patron Jason Coolbaugh and his family.

Having been “charmed” by the city on an impromptu visit last year, they considered it the ideal place to relaunch their restaurant after a catastrophic series of events saw the closing of their London business.

And in opening Blue Agave, they have breathed new life into the Grade II listed former Overburys solicitors office in Tombland, where they opened at the end of May. Jason, his French-born wife Sophie and daughter Hana, nine, live off Waterworks road in the city.

Jason is originally from California and was brought up on Mexican food. His dreams of a Mexican restaurant first came to life in 2010, when he opened a 12-seater  hole-in-the-wall in London with his wife Sophie.

He said: “Picante Mexican Grill ranked in the Trip Advisor’s top 3 of London’s Mexican eateries and we attracted a cult following of North American expats in search of the real thing.”

But a catastrophic flood destroyed their business and finances and they had to close the restaurant and think about starting over outside the capital.

“We were charmed by Norwich,” said Jason. “The fine city ticked all our boxes – perfect to raise a family, buzzing foodie scene and access to good-quality local produce. We put our London house on the market and started to look for suitable premises.”

Having grown up in Orange County, California, Jason, 48, developed a love of Mexican cuisine from a very young age. He said: “My earliest memory of cooking was making quesadillas with my sister when I was just five.”

The venture is a real family affair with Hana working with the designer on the children’s menu and Sophie fitting in social media, design and marketing around her job with Norwich music streaming startup SupaPass.

As well as making its food in house from Mexican-sourced ingredients, the restaurant also serves beer from the Cerveceria Mexicano brewery, as well as no fewer than 49 brands of Tequila.

The venue also sells its ingredients to customers and will be hosting cooking classes later this year.

Jason said: “Blue Agave is all about authentic, homestyle Mexican food – prepared fresh in our kitchen using local produce and traditional Mexican spices. We call what we do ‘Hecho en Casa’: we take pride in making everything in-house, starting with the best ingredients and cooking them the traditional way. Our menu is a reflection of the foods we love from all over Mexico.”

His signature dish is carnitas (literally ‘little meats’), an aromatic pulled pork slow-cooked to a recipe originating from the state of Michoacán. Jason’s ranchera sauce is a closely guarded family secrets. All made from scratch in his kitchen.

The name of the restaurant has its origins firmly in Mexico, too. The native blue agave plant is used to distil tequila and mezcal and Jason is looking forward to sharing his knowledge and appreciation of the spirits in Blue Agave’s bar, which serves more than 50 varieties. Open late at the weekend, the bar will soon be the venue for tequila and mezcal masterclasses.

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