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Sale by sound, food for good, omelettes mixed with tears, all washed down with tripe tacos, live butchery and a smokey shot of Mezcal. Just a few highlights from day one of Mesamerica, the Mexican food congress organised by chef Enrique Olvera.
Now in its third year, Mesamerica, which aims to showcase local Mexican talent and contemporary Mexican cuisine, opened to a bustling auditorium of journalists, chefs and throngs of Mexico City's fresh faced culinary students eager to hear speakers from all over the world.
Topics on day 1 covered a range of disciplines, from architecture to cooking, cocktails to the development of Mexico as a gastronomic powerhouse. Here's a brief look some of the highlights from day one, starting with…
The festival was opened by the head of the Government for Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera, who spoke about how attitudes towards food in Mexico City, at all levels, are quickly changing. He expressed how food can be used as a tool to attract tourism, increase employment and showcase one of the richest cultures in the world, stressing that “Mexico needs to promote its cuisine.” Obvious points but ones that many chefs said were unimaginable just two years ago.
SALE BY SOUND
“To commute across Mexico City is an extreme sport, we’re not always successful but it’s a tasty journey.” These were the words offered up by the sociologist and journalist Juan Villoro.
He presented an insightful look at Mexico City’s sprawling street food vendors, offering up some thought provoking ideas on why street food across Mexico has become so popular. He sighted the busy commutes, with many Mexicans travelling two hours to and from work, as one of the main catalysts of the city’s street food scene.
“Food is taken when we can…the traffic defines our way of eating. So many dishes came from the traffic jams.” He talked about street food like tacos and how you can often spot what a vendor is selling while your a few stops away on the bus, get your change ready and buy lunch without ever leaving the bus. He also spoke about sale by sound, the idea that mobile street vendors, even those with bad tasting products, have their loyal fans thanks to the nostalgic whistling sound their bikes make when peddled - people buy the memory of the sound, the senses, not the necessarily the food.
Tripe tacos and pink corn - just a few of the ingredients and dishes discussed by the Mexican chef Daniel Ovadia who invited ten lucky guests on stage to sample cuisine from his Paxia restaurant.
Ovadia opened his restaurant nearly 10 years ago and was one of the first places in Mexico City to cook Mexican cuisine. He works alongside a historian and anthropologist to unearth interesting recipes, techniques and ingredients. He spoke of the importance showcasing Mexico City and the 25 million inhabitants it holds. He said his menu is made up of 90% Mexican ingrediens before explaining to the crowd that “we need to make people aware of what we have here.” Before presenting a dish made using fish from Mexico City, “people think we have just dirty water” he quipped.
He finished by presenting a video of just a few of the 500 dishes he and his team have developed over the past 10 years.
Nearing the end of the day the audience were woken up with a lively conversation between Danny Bowien and Mario Batali who offered up lots of advice to the hundreds of culinary students in the audience.
Batali said young chefs these days should look to go to culinary college and both the chefs stressed a number of times the importance of working in kitchens for a long period of time - at least one year, preferably two.
Speaking about his Mission Cantina restaurant in New York, Bowien said he quickly discovered Mexican food is really hard to make, much to the joy of the audience and said that he’d love to open a place in Mexico City.
The last guest of the day took to the stage wearing a Mexican wrestling mask, however, this was not a guest appearance from the Blue Demon, instead a way to sneak the Danish chef René Redzepi into the auditorium without anyone realising he was at the event.
That wasn’t the only surprise. Redzepi, after removing the mask, announced he was at Mesamerica to offer two scholarships at Noma for two lucky culinary students in the crowd.
Six students were eventually put forward by their schools for the chance to go to Copenhagen in August for the MAD Symposium before starting a month long stage at Noma. All they had to do was cook the perfect omelette for Redzepi, Olvera, Bowien and Alice Waters who acted as judges.
The vividly nervous students set about cooking their omelettes before the chefs cast their deciding votes. In yet another surprise all six students received a prize, the two best will go to Noma, two more to Chez Panisse in California, one to Olvera’s new restaurant, Cosme, in New York and one to Mission Cantina, also New York.
An inspirational and emotional end to day one, join us later for a run down of day 2 at Mesamerica 2014.