Photography: LaQuann Dawson 

Javier Tapia possesses a kind of work ethic that is not only admirable amongst his service industry cohorts, but amongst those who strive for any kind of success in all fields. Born in Mexico, he learned early on that there was no use in squandering his time complaining or dragging his feet to get even the most tedious of tasks done. Everything he produces is done with aplomb and enthusiasm, making him both a pleasure to work with and a person to respect.  The backbone of Leyenda’s kitchen, Javier is the prep and quality control man. At 35, with a beautiful baby boy in tow, he is not only keen to satisfy his customers, but to teach the forthcoming generations about the merits of acquiring a skill and harnessing a passion. He has certainly reaped the benefits of such an approach, which has led him to create countless dishes that have not only satisfied hunger, but bolstered morale in his peers. 

Most memorable story? 

In our first year, every event that we did, we were afraid that no one would come. But for our first anniversary, we had so many people from within and without the industry come in and it solidified for me that this really was a place that mattered to people. Before, I was only working with chefs. So to learn from a new profession, from a bartender like Ivy Mix, and to see things from a different perspective has been rewarding. 

Bar/Chef Mentor? Why? 

I learned a lot on my own, but Amanda Freetag from Empire Diner was my mentor. I worked there for two years and before that I was working with Sue Torres, who was the former consulting chef at Leyenda. I have a history of working for only women. Amanda taught me a lot about how to make healthy plates and she would be there by my side to help me investigate what ingredients could be used to strengthen them. 

Dream solo project? What’s your long term goal in the industry? 

One day I’d like to have my own place and serve big dishes in the Mexican style. There are 2500 indigenous dishes, but I would like to mix the history of the ancient plates with that of the Italian and French and create fusion food.  I also want to teach our children, the next generation of cooks. Sometimes I bring my boy in here, in his bandana and chef’s jacket, and he helps chop the kale and do other prep. When it’s a school break for the kids, they’re in here working, learning a new craft.  

Best pre staff meal you’ve had? 

Chili with meat and fruit stuffed inside and fried with a walnut salsa and pomegranate on top. One of Ivy Mix’s favorite meals is Pozole, which is a traditional soup or stew great for hangovers. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

To do everything with one hundred percent of your heart and who you are. Even if I don’t like it, I have to do it to the best of my ability. My middle school teacher in Mexico taught me this and I’ve learned to apply it to the kitchen. 

What does being in charge look like to you? 

Being friendly and open to all of my future employees’ ideas.