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Mission Europe 2: Viva Mexico!

Mexico is a land close to my heart.  Growing up in Texas I gained an immense appreciation for Mexican culture, cuisine and all related topics.  Living in Costa Rica I miss trips to the Mexican grocery store and the tamal factory.  It was a no brainer when I saw the Mexican themed Theater of Taste on the event list for Salone del Gusto this year.

Chef Enrique Olvera turned out to be a fascinating host.  He spoke about the milpas of his homeland.  For those who do not know, a milpa is a farming method where different crops are purposefully planted side by side creating a mutually beneficial agricultural network.

I loved the fact that Chef Enrique was bold enough to say what many try to hide, “Mexico does not have a national cuisine.”  Mexico has regional cuisines, each one different from the last, the tacos and burritos you eat are not a fair representation of this cuisine.  As a country rich with ingredients, history and cooking abuelas, Mexico offers a cuisine with an ocean of flavors.

Pujol is the restaurant where Chef Enrique Olvera brings his ideas to life.  He claims to be both traditional and contemporary and the establishment is designed to allow you to appreciate the food you receive as well as the company you enjoy it with.

I had to restrain myself from running on stage to hug the chef upon receiving the first dish of the day.  A Mexican tamal.  I have had many kinds of tamales from many different countries, however in my opinion, Mexico’s is the best.  I had not had one in years and loved the fact that the chef who could have pulled out an extravagant culinary starter, chose instead to lead with a simple (although not necessarily easy) dish.

The tamal was perfect.  It took me back to being about 6 years old and visiting my mother’s friend Maria.  I had a ridiculous giddy grin on my face for the remainder of the workshop.  Chef Enrique Olvera then showed us a short film which portrayed a scene of an exchange of goods for money and fellows who looked like trouble.  It was a jest at culinary arts and how from a certain perspective it could be seen as a type of mafia.  It was witty and unexpected, the crowd laughed and smiled, as did Chef Enrique who you could see had as much fun making the film as he did watching us watch it.

Our last dish was fried plantains and there was nothing simple about it.  If you take plantain vinegar, fresh cream, cocoa, ancho chiles, cardamom, hazelnut oil, macadamias, amaranth, spearmint and small plantains, give them to Chef Enrique Olvera with a handful of other ingredients, he will make you something he calls Platanos Podridos Fritos or Fried Rotten Bananas.  I know you are probably a bit skeptical, but let me tell you, the dish was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S!  For the record they call them rotten bananas because the fruit is allowed to ripen to the point of where it begins to ferment and the peel turns black.

I have rarely met a Mexican that is not proud of their heritage, Chef Enrique Olvera is no exception and he translates that pride into food-speak so well.  He turns traditional ingredients and dishes into symphonies that speak of his country’s indigenous tribes, rich milpas and children that laugh with their elders.  The class felt like a huge Mexican hug and I had a hard time letting go.

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