Today, the Danish star Rene Redezepi and a selection of Mexico’s finest chefs are offering a banquet to mark the beginning of the new Maya calendar cycle. The so-called “end of the world” is meant to happen on the 21st December, a prediction that has captured the imagination of Redzepi who has been inspired to celebrate the new Katun (calendar cycle) with a banquet, organized together with this colleague and host Roberto Solís in Mérida.
South Eastern Delights
The Nordic Chef has travelled in Yucatan several times, under the guidance of Solis with the two chefs being close friends ever since Solís worked at Noma. Exploring the local markets and restaurants, Redzepi has discovered an abundance of ingredients from south-eastern Mexico, a region that boasts the most complex and mouth-watering cuisine in the country.
I can confidently predict that Benito Molina from Ensenada is serving lion fish, an invasive species currently threatening to upset the marine ecosystem.
Solis is serving a Yucatán-Style Surf and Turf on a slab of sapote wood, bringing together the state’s most characteristic flavors.
Tender morsels of shrimp, lobster and squid on waves of creamy avocado purée along with grilled parboiled octopus, and contrasting white ibe bean purée. All this is accompanied by juicy pieces of venison marinated in recado, a local black mole made with ancho chile and spices.
The dish is will be finished with orange-scented quail and brine-soaked turkey providing the palate an additional boost which is reinforced with slightly acidic pickled radishes and red onion preserves.
To add further to this exhilarating interplay of textures Solis will finish the dish with pieces of castakan (deep-fried pork belly).
Enrique Olvera is offering a pumpkin tamale called Xikil Pak made with pumpkin seeds that are very popular in this corner of the world, together with axiote (annatto) powder, adding a foam of jocoque, a type of strained-yoghurt, to give a taste of the Arab influence on Yucatecan cuisine.
Guillermo González, from Monterrey, is dishing up Caribbean lobster ceviche with tender frijoles, flavored with the aromatic hoja santa herb and braised with an intensely flavored marinade from the Huastec region. From the north-east he will bring some worms from the red maguey that are now being marketed in the Arteaga mountains.
The Italian Alessandro Porcelli is also in the kitchen cooking quail with a local sauce called chilmole. Alejandro Ruíz from Oaxaca is cooking pork (known locally as keken) in a clay pot. And Jair Téllez, who has been developing his ‘agro chic’ for over a decade, has chosen to create a barbecue of vegetables, foods that comes to life underground, sending up beautifully tender shoots - a metaphor for life and death.
The banquet’s host, Roberto Solís - owner of the Néctar restaurant in Merida - will round off the evening with a white delicacy, a reinterpreted traditional dessert with coconut mousse and almond bread (a version of the classic Yucatecan bread known as torta de cielo or ‘sky cake’), served with roasted carrot and, as a symbol of the cycle coming to a close, he will add rosemary ashes to the dish.
The venue for the event is the magnificent former Franciscan monastery of San Antonio de Padua, in the picturesque town of Izamal, a charming town 65 kilometers from Merida. Built in 1549, this colonial gem has walls painted in an intense mustard color. At night, under the stars, it will provide a spectacular backdrop as well as add a symbolic aspect to the proceedings: the site represents the syncretism found in the region since the construction was erected over the remains of an enormous pyramid known as Pap-hol-chac (house of lightning).
As an aperitif for the banquet, archeologist Alice Gamboa will explain to the 70 lucky guests various aspects of Mayan culture. All news suggests that this cook-off will be Mexico’s supper of the year - a meal that's certainly fit for the end of the world!