We are thrilled to have Mel from Travels with my Fork writing a guest blog for us on the exciting talk that took place at the British Museum last week. If anyone else out there wants to write a guest blog for us do just let us know.
Last night, myself, Kelsie (the other half of Travels With My Fork) and dozens of people converged at the British Museum to hear a panel discussion about Mexican food. This was a rare opportunity to hear from some people I personally really admire talk about a subject near and dear to their hearts.
Moderating the panel was Fay Maschler, food critic of the Evening Standard. She was joined by Wahaca’s very own Thomasina Miers, as well as Fiona Dunlop who has recently published Viva la Revolucion! , Chef Enrique Olvera who runs the prestigious Pujol a restaurant in Mexico City and my hero when it comes to Mexican cooking, Diana Kennedy.
The talk traversed a wide range of topics, including these highlights:
Diana Kennedy giving a ‘tip of the iceberg’ description of the mostly unknown regional differences in cooking and ingredients. She spoke about how there are many varied bio-regions which have led to these regional differences and sounded a warning call against big agribusiness which has the potential to wipe out these micro-crops.
FIona Dunlop describing the recent rise in visibility of a new generation of Mexican chefs who are propelling Mexican food to international recognition.
Enrique spoke at great length about the balance between maintaining traditions and their natural evolution. I was particularly impressed by how he described a shift in cooking from obtaining legitimacy from European influences to honouring the well developed classic techniques from within Mexico itself.
Thomasina described how what she and the Wahaca team are doing is a challenge directly tied to the availability of produce and ingredients that are only found in Mexico. She also described the different ‘races’ of corn available in Mexico and sees, with the lime slaking technique used there, the opportunity to develop corn as the next superfood.
Following questions from the audience, I learned about a ‘magic’ rock used by one woman’s grandmother when making beans that imparts a unique flavour. There was a very animated discussion about the difficulty in reversing most UK people’s association of Mexican food with that of stodgy, sour cream laden Tex-Mex abominations to the wealth of flavours and ingredients that Mexican food truly is. A question about tamales, got Diana really excited and she was ready to spend another two hours discussing all the different varieties she has come across.
It was a great mix of viewpoints and experiences and as the evening wore on I was hoping it would never end.
An apt closing question asked each panelist to talk about a memorable experience or memory of Mexican food. Both Fiona and Thomasina described Mexican versions of ‘Underground Restaurants’ with their meeting women who sold their specialities from the front of their homes. In the case of Fiona it was Mole sauce, and in the case of Thomasina it was empanadas. Enrique spoke about his grandmother’s food which has had a lasting influence on his cooking and described her dish of Frijoles Puercos (pork and beans). And finally,Diana described an expedition to find a particular nut that is only found in a small area. After travelling and searching she found the bush only to be informed by a local woman that all the nuts had been eaten that morning by a flock of parrots.
And if the talk were not enough to get our appetites going, the Wahaca folks laid on a spread of food afterwards with a selection of Mexican beers and Margaritas to complement the food.
It seems clear from this experience that Mexican food is finally getting the recognition it deserves for being a rich, well-developed classical cuisine of it’s own right.
Viva la revolucion of Mexican food!
PS: I was extremely honoured at the end of the panel discussion to meet Diana Kennedy and ask her to sign my 20-year-old foodstained and dogeared copy of The Cuisines of Mexico. She urged me, as she had urged the audience throughout the evening, to pick up a copy of her new release Essential Cuisines of Mexico.
Check out Tommi making a Mole on the British Museum website here.
Thanks to Mel for a fantastic Guest Post.