Almost a century ago, a little girl named Augustina Florentino lived in a tiny, sun-kissed village in Puebla, Mexico, right near the Oaxacan border. Her mother, who was from Oaxaca, taught her how to prepare Oaxacan and Pueblan molés – those fantastic sauces that are the glory of Mexican cuisine. She always used spices fresh from the garden, roasting the chiles, adding bananas and cinnamon and the rest of the 27 ingredients, spending hours making sure the rich molé sauce was perfect. 

Many years later in the city of Puebla, Augustina taught all this and more – like how to catch and butcher the chickens that roamed outside, how to make shrimp into fresh spicy aguachile – to her grandson, a young boy who loved nothing more than to watch his grandma cook.

Later on, that grandson, Damian Hernandez, moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., and then to Tulsa. He was always working in restaurants. 

“I love to cook,” he says. “That’s my passion. When there’s a family party, I’m the one who cooks.” 

When Ridge Grill opened in south Tulsa back in 2011, Damian found work there. Veteran chef David Dean saw his potential, taught him how to cook European-style fine dining dishes, and soon made Damian his sous-chef. 

At some point about a year ago, owner Mir Khezri decided to open a Mexican restaurant next door, the Ridge Cantina. Good authentic Mexican food in an upscale setting – that was Khezri’s idea, and Damian was a perfect fit. 

For almost four months, he and another chef, Joe Ensinia, took over the Ridge Grill kitchen for four hours each morning before the place opened. They talked, they cooked, they brainstormed – and slowly, over the months, the menu came together.

The line-up focuses on not only complex flavors, but proper presentation, color and texture. The elote corn, still on the cob, all reds and yellows, comes with smoky grill marks. The shrimp aguachile, another of Augustina’s creations, raw pink shrimp, carefully layered like a round smokestack with lots of green (cucumber, cilantro, lime, avocado, jalapeno) is a delight to look at and even better to eat – so fresh, sharp and citric. 

Three of Augustina’s molés are on the menu, made with fresh spices just the way she used to create them. There’s chocolate-colored molé poblano, the most famous; molé pipian, green and made from pumpkin seeds; and molé chichilo, dark and smoky, a very rare molé from Oaxaca (it goes great with tenderloin). 

“Too many people think of Mexican food as routine, Americanized Tex-Mex, something cheap and cheaply made,” says Damian. “I want to show them that Mexican and fine dining can mix.” 

While we lost Augustina last year at the age of 90, I think she would have approved.

Ridge Cantina grilled tenderloin fajitas


2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed

2 cups onions, cut into strips

2 cups bell peppers, cut into strips


2 cup vegetable oil

2 cup olive oil

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup lemon juice

4 oz red onion, minced

¼ cup fresh garlic, minced

¼ cup season salt

1 tsp white pepper

Combine the marinade ingredients and marinade meat for 2-4 hours. Remove and pat dry.

Grill meat on char-broiler until medium, or desired doneness.

Sear onions and peppers.

Serve with homemade flour tortillas, fresh guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. Enjoy! 

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