September 27, 2015
Because that is how people greet each other in Mexico. One kiss, on the left check, even if you're being introduced. It took me a while to stop holding out my hand, American-style, or keep myself from turning my head for the two-cheek European kiss.
It's emblematic of this country: not an air kiss, but a warm one, usually accompanied by a hug. This is a big-hearted, energetic nation which comes as a shock to anyone whose first thought at the word "Mexico" is "danger!"
The capital is a strange place of enormous contrasts; very rich, very poor and very large. There are 19 million cars here, and the traffic is not bad, it's insane. People think nothing of a two hour ride to get from one place to another. "It gives us more time to eat!" said one friend, scooping up a taco from a stand near our idling taxi.
And the food! I've had so many memorable meals here. These are just a few highlights.
The sea urchin (from Baja California) at the wonderful Merotoro, a restaurant so open to the green park outside you feel as if you're eating outdoors. I also loved the octopus chorizo tacos there.
The chiles en nogada at the Nico's, a fifty-year old restaurant that was just inducted into the Fifty Best Latin American restaurants. It's one of those places where the waiters know their customers so well they might be family, and people stroll through the restaurant so easily you feel you're all eating at one big table. The food is traditional, and cooked with enormous care and skill.
Their guacamole is also the best I've ever had.
I was there for Mesa Redonda, a conference put together by Enrique Olvera (Cosme, New York) to discuss some of the most serious issues facing the world of food. Michel Bras, the poet chef of the kitchen discussed terroir in loving detail. Nicola Twilley – one of the most interesting writers tackling the science of food – had fascinating (and provocative) ideas on sustainability. Jorge Larson, a biochemist, talked about biodiversity and Soledad Barutti, a firebrand from Argentina, took on food systems. I think the entire audience fell in love with David Hertz, a Brazilian chef who's been working with Gastromotiva in the favelas, training the poorest people in the world. My topic was communication, followed by Alex Ruiz, the Oaxacan chef, on tradition. Then the wonderful Lara Gilmore (wife and partner of Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana), and Wylie DuFresne discussed creativity in the kitchen. The talks, which are on pod cast, were short, pithy, and extremely enlightening. I learned so much.
The next morning, at 4 a.m. we gathered at La Central, the largest wholesale food market in the world.
Lots of fascinating moments here, but for me the big surprise was the huitlacoche stand; turns out that all it takes is lots of water to make an ordinary ear of corn become this:
and Quintonil, where Jorge Vallejo is making light almost Japanese-inflected dishes like this ceviche of cactus
Here's the chef showing off his rooftop garden to Wylie
And I'll be writing about the terrific wines now coming out of Baja California, like this one:
But that's for another day.
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