In just a few weeks Enrique Olvera and his team at the Pujol restaurant in Mexico City will move to a brand new home.
Pujol.2, situated inside a mid century mansion in the Polanco neighborhood, will be a much bigger, fresher and brighter space.
“We’re going back to simplicity,” explains Olvera, “healthier food that people know and want to eat everyday.” He started Pujol 17 years ago on a shoestring budget and the new space is a dream restaurant for any chef. “This is a very special moment for me and I’m trying to saviour it as much as I can,” he says, “it’s probably the pinnacle of our restaurant career.”
Left: Sea bass, cacahuatzintle juice, celery and amashito chile sauce. Right: Cauliflower, almond and chile de árbol mojo
The new Pujol restaurant will jump from 60 covers to 90, encompassed in a sleek, almost Japanese-style design. It was created by architect Javier Sánchez and for Olvera, forever the chef, the new development allows him and his team to play, a lot more.
“It’s a much larger space and it gives us opportunities to do things we have wanted to do at Pujol for a while. For example, we have a much larger kitchen with wood burning grills, an underground oven for slow cooking methods, there’s also a terrace where people will be able to have after meal drinks. We are capturing rain water and using it to water our new garden – a large percentage of the herbs we will now be using will be grown by us. ”
The new space, so much roomier than the old Pujol, is noticeably similar to Cosme, Olvera’s New York restaurant, a project that he admits has influenced his view of what a restaurant should be.
The new Pujol will have two distinct dining areas: a large Omakase-style taco counter with tacos prepared directly in front of diners – the menu here will consist of six different tacos. The main dining room will feature a tasting menu with six courses, but diners will be presented with multiple options within the menu.
Olvera says that like many chefs who progress in their career he finds himself looking for less complex and more delicious food, an approach that he will install at the new restaurant. “The food will be much more simple, we are doing corn served inside it’s own husk, passed through the grill to make it aromatic … we are looking at a more everyday style of food, but with a very high quality.
Right: Mushroom tamale, tomatoe sauce, epazote.
“We want to cook whole racks of beef and whole fish on the grill and serve them for the whole table – if you go to a home in Mexico most of the serving style is sharing, so we want to do that with our larger tables and people can make their own tacos.
“We are going to make the best tortillas we can possibly make and then simple proteins cooked on the grill or underground for their filling, we will impress with the best sauces you can get using some unique ingredients. When you think of Japanese cuisine, the protein is often left alone and the craft is shown in the rice, we want to do the same, but our craft will be shown in the tortilla and all the flavour will come from our sauces and the vegetables.”
Olvera says he plans to show off the team's creativity and techniques in the kitchen through a wide array of sauces: “All the best taqueria are known for their sauces,” he says.
Left: Chamomile blossom flan. Right: Black zapote and mezcal sweet.
He explains that “the classic Mexican sauce is tomato, onion, garlic and cilantro, but we will basically be working with other ingredients.” The chef doesn’t want to stay just rooted in traditional Mexican produce for this, in fact, when pressed on what exactly he wants to use, he says, “anything we can get our hands on.”
“For example, maybe with the spices, heat instead of coming from chilli will come from different types of peppers, maybe mustard, maybe even wasabi – we want to have a go at making very creative sauces.” Using these sauces and the idea of Mexican balance as a base to incorporate new ingredients from further afield is an interesting idea.
As the team get ready to make the trip to their new home just 10 blocks across town – to a restaurant twice the size of the old space, complete with all the toys a cook could dream of – they’ll take with them one very important item. The Mole Madre (mother mole), a sauce they started together over three years ago, a classic Mexican sauce they have kept alive now for 1185 days – a testament to their dedication to true Mexican cuisine and one piece of the old Pujol Olvera says they just “couldn’t let die.”