From 25th until 28th of July, Mexico City hosted its first ever annual gastronomic summit, MesaAmérica. Organized by the chef Enrique Olvera it representing the Colectivo Mexicano de Cocina with a variety of topics and disciplines on the table for discussion. From sustainability and education to the replanting of public spaces, all topics based on the theme that traveling and eating are essential factors for cuisine.
Authentic Cuisine, Cuisine du Terroir
Jair Téllez (Laja, Valle de Guadalupe and Merotoro, Mexico City) gave an eloquent presentation: “Cooking is a human activity, and human activity is culture, so an authentic cuisine is a cuisine that grows from peoples’ cultural landscape: their history, geography and what they do. Mexico can therefore have an authentic cuisine without it necessarily being based on a long-standing tradition, since a cuisine tells us about what is happening and what is real.” This refers to a movement in Baja California, a region that has little in common with Mexico’s national culinary identity. Telléz is a champion of this region’s cuisine, a cuisine that is seasoned by its geographical proximity to the US, its large migrant population, the surrounding valleys and the sea off Ensenada — all of which provide amazing ingredients to create dishes that reflect this terroir. A cuisine that’s equally important as those with longer histories.
James Casey (editor and founder of the American magazine Swallow) gave a talk on the third issue of his biannual publication—specially focused on Mexican cuisine. The topic was chosen, he explained, because this is a cuisine that is close to the United States, hip and full of energy. At a time when everyone is focusing on “fine dining”, Swallow looks at street food and the realist aesthetic that dominates most Mexicans’ daily eating habits; it visits taco joints and cantinas to offer a guide for the truly adventurous and includes interviews with top players in the industry who have left their mark on the current eating scene.
Breaking New Ground
For radically new ideas, Lars Williams (Nordic Food Lab) was on hand to give a controversial example: some types of decomposition processes create attractive flavors. This formed part of his explanation of how research can be used to explore the realms of taste that falls between edible and non-edible foods. This raised the idea of creating a culinary identity without a defined space, such as restaurants, as explained by Isaac McHale and James Lowe, the young British members of the Young Turks collective. Rosio Sanchez (pastry chef, Noma) used her presentation to question why we love desserts and to redraw the line between sweet and sour, and discussed how she makes desserts based on vegetables like potatoes.
Chile: South Food
Hailing from the furthest southern tip of the American continent, Rodolfo Guzmán (Borágo, Santiago de Chile) was the only South American representative. Guzmán’s approach to cooking promotes the understanding of the ancestral cultures of the Mapuche and Pewenche indigenous population. His dishes are rustic and use ingredients that are found in the wild and boldly presented in their original natural state, without prejudices, to create a constantly evolving cuisine.
In his presentation Rick Bayless described how immigration adds gastronomic flavor, and also how subsidies exist for imported foods which discourage production of the same ingredient within a given country—with a major impact on small-scale farmers or campesinos. Steve Sando laid down the challenge to protect the bean called frijol criollo, due to its variety and taste; Ricardo Muñoz Zurita spoke of the vast range of chilies, unknown to most Mexicans, and the researcher Diane Kennedy talked about mushrooms. Mónica Patiño called for cuisine to be seasonal, and therefore responsible and sustainable. Education at an early age, as a key factor to change habits, was a central theme on which many of the speakers agreed.
A Forum for Firsts
Albert Adriá used the occasion to announce his two new projects in Barcelona: the recently opened 41 Grados, where the delicacies from the famous El Bulli restaurant are served as snacks; he will also inaugurate another restaurant that will most probably be called Jaguar, inspired by his visit to Mexico City’s Museum of National Anthropology and History. This will be a joint venture with Mexican chef, Paco Méndez, and its core dishes will consist of tacos, quesadillas and empanadas. The successful chef from the United States, Carlos Mirarchi, the son of a Panamanian mother, also revealed his New York restaurant, Blanca, which combines some Asian techniques and ingredients with Latin cuisine; and Daniel Patterson (Coi, San Francisco) showed some illustrations of his latest book that will be published by Phaidon.