The subject was mole, the bewitching chocolate-based sauce of 54 ingredients that is Mexico's culinary trump card. In a couple of sentences Roberto Arteaga condensed its complicated evolution and defended his version, enriched with white chili fermented cactus and sherry. On the menu at Zona Rosa, white mole marries well with game hen, he assured with a knockout smile. Zona Rosa is the reason why the 35-year-old native of Mexico City uprooted himself and moved to Hong Kong to become its executive chef. The restaurant, which opens on December 8 and is named after an area in Mexico City that teems with cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs, is Lan Kwai Fong's latest tenant. And Hong Kong's fourth Mexican restaurant. 'I wanted the challenge to bring Mexican food here. And be successful,' he said. Mr Arteaga exudes a gentle charm and soft intensity. When he talks about food or gastronomy or his published research on spices, he is completely unfazed by the din that assaulted our ears as workmen put the final touches on one of Zona Rosa's four dining areas. Despite the noise made by seven people in a cosy space, he remains totally focused on every question. Perhaps that quality - plus his resolve not to compromise for the sake of cost, efficiency or speed on ingredients or the laborious methods associated with Mexican cooking - may raise the standard of Mexican food here and promote understanding of one of the world's most complex cuisines. 'Mexican cuisine is labour-intensive. It requires so much chopping, grinding, marinating and slow cooking. It is quite the opposite from Chinese cuisine,' he explained. Since his arrival three months ago, Mr Arteaga has been teaching the eight Chinese cooks the basics of the cuisine - from dry-roasting chillies and grinding corn for tamales or nuts and spices for sauces to wrapping meats in leaves for barbecue, and fermenting cactus. 'Considering this type of cooking goes against what they've learned in Chinese food, they've done well. If I had Mexican cooks, they'd already have bad habits and take shortcuts.' Mr Arteaga was handpicked in Mexico City by personal recommendation. His teacher and mentor, Alicia Gironella, reputed to be one of Mexico's authorities on gastronomy, recommended him to Karin Joffe, general manager and executive chef of California restaurant, and the person responsible for the creation and execution of Zona Rosa. He graduated from university with a degree in philosophy, studied with and worked for Ms Gironella in her restaurant in Mexico City, then conducted seminars with her in South America on Mexican cuisine. Zona Rosa won't be what most Hong Kong people expect. 'It's not a burrito-taco-Tex-Mex hole-in-the-wall,' says Ms Joffe. 'Although there is room for one of those in Hong Kong, this isn't it. Zona Rosa is more fine dining with regional Mexican food. 'When we (owner Allan Zeman) and I decided the restaurant would be Mexican, I studied regional Mexican cooking, then went to Mexico to learn more, meet chefs and eat my way across the country. I concentrated only on the food, not the design of the restaurant. The space was completely uninhabitable,' she says, referring to the three floors it occupies in the One Lan Kwai Fong building. When Tony Chi saw the space, the New York-based designer agreed. But he met the challenge. Mr Chi, who also designed Indochine and Tutto Bene, styled Zona Rosa after a hacienda or a landowner's home. Each of the dining areas distinguishes itself by the use of colourful tiles, hand-wrought iron fixtures, candles, wall textures and stone and brick floors. The furnishings in wood and leather, plus tabletop, were selected by Ms Joffe and Mr Chi in Mexico. The menu hints of Mr Arteaga's biography. For eight years, he owned a restaurant in Cozumel in the Yucatan, a region noted for barbecued dishes and a favourite soup, sopa de Lima (shredded chicken in lime juice and consomme). Seafood ideas come from Veracruz and the lamb and pork dishes are characteristic of Hildago, a region where his father's family come from. Starters will be familiar - chicken tostadas with smoked chili sauce and quesadillas (corn turnovers) with a variety of fillings. One soup reflects the contemporary style of Mexico City, a puree of hearts of palm, green and yellow bell peppers. 'That was inspired from gazpacho (cold tomato-vegetable soup) and one that French chef Georges Blanc did,' he added. Characteristic of Mexican food is combining textures on one plate and sauces made from seeds. Achiote sauce (a combination of annato seed, sour orange, green tomato, onion and spices) doubles as a marinade in tamal de pollo (chicken breast wrapped in banana leaf and steamed). 'Mexican food is spicy, but not hot. Some food is heavy, but much of it, especially the contemporary cooking, is light and not greasy. Unlike Chinese food which tends to be sweet, Mexican has sour tastes. 'I'm open-minded when it comes to food,' he continues. 'My mother was English and Scottish, my father, Mexican and grandfather, Spanish. It was not unusual at our home to have refried beans and pancakes for breakfast. When Mr Arteago accepted the Hong Kong position, he paid a visit to Diana Kennedy, a British-born cooking teacher and food writer who has lived in Mexico over 40 years and is considered by Mexicans to be an authority on their cuisine. 'I asked for advice since she is British and Hong Kong has many British people. Diana told me to be true to Mexican food. Be authentic, and resist the temptation to take shortcuts. Then I talked with Alicia. Her food style is more modern than Diana's which is classical. 'Alicia reminded me that the best ingredients and the best techniques aren't enough. If you don't cook with love, the food won't be genuine.' Mr Arteaga has dined at La Placita and Casa Mexicana, and agrees with Ms Joffe that there is room for another Mexican restaurant. 'La Placita and Casa Mexicana spark interest in Mexico and its food. So that's good for Zona Rosa,' adds Ms Joffe. Observes Mr Arteaga: 'They're large, festive places, party restaurants. Zona Rosa is smaller. The ambience, quieter. It is like dining in someone's home.'