Sonia Arias, the first female Mexican chef to receive a scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America, started her talk on a positive note, explaining how attitudes towards Mexican cuisine and the country are changing, adding: “in the future Mexico will be perceived differently”.
She then proceeded to discuss the rise of the celebrity chef, how media works to portray chefs in a certain way, always in clean whites, smiling and of “rock star” status. She discussed how this makes many people confused as to what it actually means to be a chef, “TV media has helped broadcast this image of chefs but the perception is usually very wrong.”
She addressed these issues with warning in her voice, explaining that to be a chef it has to be a passion, something you really want to do, not something to do for the status. Good advice for the hundreds of culinary students in the audience.
Pastry as Art
Alejandra Hurtado, who used to work as the pastry chef at the Boragó restaurant run by chef Rodolfo Guzmán, started by letting everyone know just how much she loves sweet cuisine before moving on to talk about her unique relationship with the photographer Araceli Paz. She said that working closely with a photographer had improved her pastry creations and helped to turn her work into art, adding: “the first bite is always eaten with the eyes”. She also warned the students in the room to remember that pastry can be very precise form of cooking but to remember that when dishes come in contact with the diner they are usually perceived on an emotional level.
Ramon Morató, author of the award winning book Chocolate and guest lecturer at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, opened his talk focusing on how he finds inspiration for his work in art he sees all around him.
He spoke about “the power of packaging” and how used correctly it can have a beneficial effect on how pastry products are perceived. He then spoke about the importance of understanding technology in the kitchen, especially because many pastry chefs loose control of their desserts once they’re boxed. “If you understand tech you can control your product.”
This control over the product was pushed one step further as Morató warned about the importance of controlling the way a diner eats. “The order in which you eat food has a big effect on flavour”, he said, before telling the audience that it’s the chefs role to decide what the order that ingredients on the plate should be eaten. “The customer can not decide this.” He then offered up some suggestions on how this control over experience might be achieved, people will usually aim for foods on the right of the plate first, unless they’re left handed, and they will usually opt to eat the ingredients that are closest to them.
Pierre Herme, the French master who has perfected the creation, production and marketing of pastry around the world was welcomed on stage with loud cheers from the crowd before he was accidentally sent into a haze of smoke thanks to someone pressing the wrong button on stage.
Once the smoke had cleared, Herme sat down to discuss his approach to pastry speaking about what it was like to open his first boutique in Tokyo and how flavours from that part of the world quickly made their way into his pastries, forming desserts containing wasabe, miso and sesame.
Herme also spoke about his unusual approach to flavour combinations, something he calls “associating flavours.” He discussed how he has kept a fresh approach at his boutiques, constantly changing to match seasons, new ingredients, flavour discoveries or, as he likes to call them, “fetishes”.
The crowd were very excited when he told them that one of the best vanillas he uses in his pastries comes from Mexico before Herme was given a special award by the Mesamerica conference and whisked off to catch his flight - pun intended.
Best Restaurant Dessert
The end of Mesamerica was marked an award for Best Restaurant Dessert in Mexico City which went to Elsa Judith Olmos - she recieved a month longapprenticeship with Jordi Roca as part of her prize. There was also a beautiful presentation of a Mexican style globe filled with air that slowly grew, taking over the entire stage - it provided a colourful end to a colourful three day congress before chef Enrique Olvera took to the stage to thanks all those involved in Mesamerica 2014.