For eight months last year, a team of creatives fanned out all over Mexico on a peculiar errand prompted by designer Ignacio Cadena: Bring him bones. Lots of bones.
“It was a very unusual mission, and there was a very unusual bunch of people that we met during this discovery journey,” he recalls. “It was kind of crazy — I mean, ‘What do you want bones for?’”
At that point, Ignacio wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted the bones for, aside from knowing they were essential to his vision for Guadalajara’s Hueso restaurant, helmed by his brother, chef Alfonso Cadena. Hueso means bone, and it was only when he had amassed a warehouse full of skeletal bounty that the Darwinian concept clicked into place. “I was more of a naturalist cataloging all of these species,” says Ignacio, who is president of Cadena & Asociados Concept Design. “When I saw all of the pieces lying on the floor, I saw the possibility of what the restaurant could look like.”
The result of this somewhat morbid quest is manifested in Hueso’s curiously arresting appearance. The facade of the 1940s house in Guadalajara’s design district is a shell of custom-crafted ceramic tiles in graphic prints, serving as the restaurant’s skin; inside, walls are bedecked from floor to high ceiling with a textural collage composed of more than 10,000 whitewashed bones, along with plants, seeds, and culinary implements.
“The design of the restaurant is very important; we had a blast,” says Alfonso, who had only one request. “An open kitchen — I want to cook with freedom.”
Hueso marks the brothers’ third collaboration, but it’s a departure from Alfonso’s larger-scale La Leche in Puerto Vallarta. “He really wanted to go back to a more exploratory culinary concept,” Ignacio says. “A raw, going-back-to-the-caves way of cooking. The plates look beautiful, even if they remind me of caveman food.”
Ignacio boasts about the experience, which he calls the best of his career. “It’s about my brother and me. It’s been therapeutic, spilling our guts out about how we feel and the relationship that we have,” he says. “For me, it was slowly drawing the character of my brother through design.”
If the aesthetic is, in fact, a testament to Alfonso’s disposition, then he’s clearly a complex character: Hueso’s exterior is whimsical, while the insides are more raw, anchored by a hulking 52-seat communal table fashionedfrom reclaimed pinewood—this is a restaurant with some serious spine. What could have been a rough, unrefined interior is softened by the interplay of chromatic color and natural lighting, and darkened by a bit of shadow.
“At the end, it’s incredible to see how something that could be so aggressive becomes so soothing and comforting,” Ignacio says. Is he referring to the chef or his workspace? The answer is likely both.