Alajandro Ruiz, Casa Oaxaca, Oaxaca
It has been nearly a year now that I attended this incredible inspirational 3 day seminar at the university of Anahuac in Mexico City, one of the most prestiius universities in Mexico and also head quarter of the Cordon Bleu French cooking school. I was staying with my friend Ruth Alegria in her Condessa digs and early mornings we braved the Mexico City traffic for the three days to hear what was new in the culinary world in Mexico. Well, a lot, as you can read in the article, but what was just as great was visiting with culinary friends.
The "cool" Californians. Benito Molino from Manzanilla restaurant in Ensenada y moi, formerly of cool Los Angeles
Ruth Alegria, my gracious hostess
Diego Oka, "Wunderkind" chef if there ever was one. He is opening restaurants internationally for Peruvian star chef Gaston Acurio. Mind you he is 24, I want to adopt him. I met him at La Mar restaurant in Mexico City's very tony Santa Fe. I am still pining for his Peruvian "causa".
Ricardo Muños, long time friend, restaurateur and Mexican food historian par excellance. Also owner of Azul y Oro at UNAM and in the trendy Condesa in Mexico City.
Article published in La Atención, July 2, 2010
With Mexico’s cuisine earmarked to become one of the first in the world to gain UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designation, the Conferencia de Mexico Cocina Abierta (Conference of Mexican Open Kitchen), held at the University of Anahuac (also the headquarter for the French Cordon Bleu cooking school) in Mexico City from June 2-5, could not have been more timely.
On opening night, at the fabulous new St. Regis Diana hotel across from the landmark Diana Fountain, chef, restaurant owner, culinary historian and radio host Ricardo Muñoz Zurita gave an eye-opening presentation about the indigenous foods of the Americas. The list is long and it was interesting to see how, by now, many countries in the world have appropriated imports from the New World as their own trademark foods. Ireland the potato; Italy, tomatoes and corn for polenta and Indian, Thai and Sichuan food are synonymous with chiles. Even if the USA is in the New World, many do not realize that its beloved peanuts and popcorn are indigenous, along with beans, squashes, avocados, vanilla and the queen of all the treasures: chocolate. This is just to mention a few of the more than 50 foods.
The second day of the conference began with a demonstration by Chef Francisco Méndez from restaurant Tapasbar. His food was a harbinger of what was to come over the next three days. Even though tapas are a quintessential Spanish style of bar snacks, Chef Francisco used popular Mexican botanas (appetizers) for his inspiration. A black bean tamal baked in a banana leaf is served on a crusty toast round, topped with salsa boracha (literally: drunk salsa) and crema (Mexican crème fraiche); a skewer with meat al pastor (gyro style) is placed upright into a toast round covered with fresh tomatoes grated over it, then drizzled with a pineapple salsa. This delicious bite pays tribute to the taco al pastor (shepherds taco), served traditionally with a slice of pineapple.
Eduardo Osuna from Casa Poniente in Celaya followed with his presentation of gorditas stuffed with crabmeat and garnished with an egg yolk-like sphere of salsa Valentina (popular brand of a Mexican commercial salsa). To make this, the chef used a bit of new fangled chemistry based on natural ingredients. I can’t wait to go to his restaurant (Celaya is a 40 minute drive from San Miguel de Allende) and try his intriguing signature fish dish. A catch-of-the-day fish fillet is cooked with a medley of vegetables and hoja santa butter (an indigenous anise flavored herb), in a clear see-through pouch. The pouch is presented and opened at the table for the guest to be able to inhale the escaping fragrant smells.
French chef Thierry Blouet, from Café des Artiste in Puerto Vallarta, showed that using his French skills and working with Mexican ingredients can produce the most superb mouthwatering dishes. His transparent lobster ravioli perfumed with cardamom and finished with a chile poblano sauce was a masterpiece that would have made Escoffier smile.
My good friend of 20 years, Carmen “Titita” Ramirez Degollado, owner of the 38-year-old “El Bajio” restaurant, urged all the “youngsters” to continue to study their culinary roots. This she demonstrated by preparing the most healthful and delicious pre-Columbian green mole based on a profusion of leaves and herbs and served over a bed of steamed chayote and calabacitas (zucchini). Aquiles Chaves, from restaurant Ló in Villahermosa in the state of Tabasco, where cacao (chocolate) trees grow, made the audience swoon with the smell of roasting cacao beans, which he crushed and served as a garnish for seared fillet of red snapper nestled in an ancho chile sauce and accompanied by yucca (cassava root) slices sautéed with tequila butter.
At the very opposite end of the country, in Monterrey (bordering the US), one of Mexico’s best chefs, Guillermo Gonzáles Beristáin is letting his culinary ambitions loose in seven restaurants, including house-label wines to match the food. His avocado roll nestled on a sheet of sangria gelatina (sangria jello) and sprinkled with chicharrón (fried pork skins) crumble would definitely be on my list to try if I were to visit Monterrey.
Internationally acclaimed Spanish chef Ferran Adrià, who dethroned France’s long-term dominance as culinary world masters, was represented at the conference by his brother Albert Adrià. The sheer artistry and craftsmanship of both of their work is revolutionary. It has gone beyond food, cooking and feeding to alchemy, science and mind boggling artistry. Desserts of pain strikingly created replicas of fruits are turned into molds made from fruit essences to fool your palate; what looked like a strawberry that was served on your plate, was actually a combination of fruit purées of the most intense explosions of flavor. To me, it seemed to be a very sophisticated version of what I grew up with in Germany. We made look-alike foods from marzipan, which included all kinds of fruits, vegetables and even sausages. They looked very real, real enough for me wanting to put mustard on my marzipan sausages!
I could fill an entire issue of La Atención if I were to report every one of the amazing chefs that showed their enthusiasm for Mexican ingredients and dishes with a new and fresh touch in the three days of the conference. What saddened me was that I did not meet any SMA chefs or restaurateurs at this inspiring event.
We must live up our UNESCO heritage standards and put this magical historic town on the international culinary map as well. In turn, it could draw much-needed tourist business. We have such an abundance of fabulous locally-produced ingredients at hand, why not prepare them a way to showcase their quality and honor the relentless work and dedication that the local farmers and producers put towards giving us these superlative ingredients.