Meet NYC Fancy Food Fellow Finalist: Xilli
Nacxitl Gaxiola is a serial chef and culinary researcher.
Lucky for us, he’s also a serial entrepreneur, bringing his culinary sensations to restaurants around New York City. His latest venture is Xilli, a company that makes and sells handmade salsas, moles, and pickles with Mexican flavors. “Xilli” is the original word for chili in Nahuatl, the pre-Columbian language of Mexico.
Xilli’s products are centuries-old staples of Mexican cuisine, but tweaked using modern cooking techniques from other parts of the world. That’s where the lab comes in.
Xilli’s “research lab” is where Chef Nacxitl, who had a background in chemistry before switching to cooking full-time, and his team experiment with different flavors to achieve the perfect balance for a memorable culinary experience.
“Our flavors are the ones your Mexican abuela used to make, even if you never had a Mexican abuela!”
As one of seven finalists in our Taste of NYC: Fancy Food Fellowship, sponsored by NYCEDC and the Specialty Food Association, Xilli now has a chance to share its sauces and marinades at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show, where over 22,000 buyers from more than 100 countries will converge to view top-of-the-line specialty food products.
We spoke to Chef Nacxitl about where he derived his idea for Xilli. (Note: some answers have been paraphrased for stylistic purposes.)
What prompted you to start Xilli?
Like any entrepreneur, I craved economic independence and creative freedom. I also had a great concept. There is nothing like our products on the market. No other commercial brand is truly authentic, delicious and based on research. Nothing brings back memories or transports you the way ours will.
Did you have any culinary or business experience to help you get started?
I have more than 17 years of experience in the culinary arts, specializing in authentic Mexican cuisine.
Between working for esteemed chef-researcher Ricardo Muñoz Zurita as an executive culinary researcher, helping start two restaurants (La Superior in Williamsburg and El Vez Restaurant in Battery Park City), and creating the menu for Pulqueria (a dining hotspot in Chinatown featuring traditional Mexican fare), I’ve learned to honor traditional Mexican flavors and recipes modified through modern techniques and presentations.
I currently work as a culinary consultant developing menus, recipes and training staff at Mexican restaurants, which has helped significantly on the business side.
Of course all of this salsa making has greatly benefited from my foray in culinary research and teaching of Mexican cooking techniques. [He teaches a salsa making class at Brooklyn Kitchen!]
What are some of the major obstacles you face in your day-to-day operations?
Cash flow and working capital have been the biggest issues and obstacles since we started.
XILLI started with minimum resources, much of which we spent building the kitchen, perfecting our recipes and running the first lines of contact with our initial retailers. We know our hard work paid off in the quality of our products, because of the significant interest from stores (both brick and mortar, and online). But while we have paved the way to success, we don’t have enough remaining cash flow to increase our fulfillment capacity to meet increasing demand.
What role does your local community play?
The values of Brooklyn perfectly align with my culinary philosophies, as it is perhaps the most innovative place in the country for authentic, artisanal, small batch food products.
Whenever possible we work with ingredients from within the U.S., and as close to our Brooklyn headquarters as possible. We believe that sourcing certain items from Mexico is better than getting them from farther away. After all, we are creating a Mexican product. Our farmers’ dedication to their craft translates directly into the quality of our line.
Are there any common cultural misconceptions that you face as an immigrant entrepreneur?
While Tex-Mex has been popular in the U.S. for decades, Americans have recently pushed for a more authentic Mexican experience. There is a lack of truly authentic and delicious Mexican products on the market, especially for consumption at home. But as an entrepreneur focusing specifically in authentic and traditional Mexican Cuisine, it has been extremely hard to find investors interested in authenticity and tradition over trends and fashion.
Also, as a recently documented immigrant, it has been impossible to find private funding or loans even from banks or institutions, because of my very new credit history.
Try some of Xilli's fresh salsa, mole and pickles while supporting artisans and producers in the U.S. and Mexico. Find them at these markets in NYC.
About the Fancy Food Fellow Series: Each week, we’re featuring immigrant entrepreneurs with a passion for bringing their unique flavor to NYC’s melting pot. Come back next week for another food profile from this year’s Fancy Food Fellow Finalists. You can find all profiles here.