NI’s 2017 Dining Awards: Best New Chef

Chef Roel Mesta of Masa. (Photo by Michael Caronchi)

Roel Mesta grew up in Naples restaurants, one could say. Born in Texas to migrant workers from the northern Coahuila State near the Texas-Mexico border, Mesta moved around the country when he was young, then settled with his parents, grandmother, and four brothers in Naples. At age 14, he started as a dishwasher at Ristorante Ciao and later moved up to line cook. He eventually landed into the D’Amico & Partners restaurant organization as line cook at Campiello and later sous-chef at Café Lurcat. The latter, he says, has had the greatest influence on the style he brought to Masa as of December 2015.

“I learned so much about simplifying the dish and letting the protein be the star,” says Mesta. “And I learned about plating and presentation. I like the main ingredient to shine. A cleaner dish is better.”

Other major influences on his cooking have been his mother and grandmother, who brought their north Mexican–style of cooking along with them to Naples. This, too, has effected changes at Masa, a high-end Mexican restaurant that first opened at Mercato in 2012.

“The menu previously had veered from its focus on authenticity, and I really worked with and educated my kitchen team to bring it back to being a more accurate interpretation of Mexican cuisine,” he says. “Now, I have staff members who are Mexican commenting that menu items taste like some of the favorites items their relatives in Mexico made.”

Mesta continues to grow and evolve the Masa concept, including introducing different moles. One of his favorite Mexican indulgences, mole describes different sauces often flavored with multi-spice blends and chocolate. “One thing I really learned … is to keep pushing myself,” he says. “Something that is really good could be better. I always look forward to our seasonal menu changes but the changes don’t stop there. I also run specials on weekends, and that’s where I experiment with new things on an ongoing basis.”

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