Round And Round And Round We Go
Another chef celebrated by this series’ second season is Mecico DF-based Enrique Olivera from the Pujol restaurant. Not unlike his Indian colleague Gaggan Anand from Bangkok’s Gaggan, Oliveira is at the forefront of a new wave of chefs from developing economies, signposting places like Oaxaca or Calcutta on the world culinary map. And just like Alex Atala in Brazil, he’s at the avant-garde of nothing but a revolution in glocal cuisine, bringing ecological concern where it is more likely to have an impact than anywhere else in the world: our plates.
Intensive monoculture, implemented first in the US, has flattened agricultural production on the planet, implementing an “universal” taste for bland, comforting, genetically-enhanced food where infinite diversity formerly reigned. New chefs base their ventures in gastronomy on their country’s traditional dishes using strictly local, sometimes ephemereal ingredients, like Olivera does in his Baby corn with chicatana ants mayonnaise; corn, of which hundreds of variety exist, is the heart and soul of Mexican cuisine, and chicatana ands are available four or five days a year, making them both a rare delicacy and an epitome of seasonal goods.
Olivera funded his Pujol restaurant via crowd-funding and started by churning out classic French-inspired dishes, and like most of his counterparts in other regions of the world he felt frustrated to check his roots at the kitchen door. His switch to full-on 21st century streamlined Mexican dishes has put him in the top twenty Restaurant list in 2013, and if this kind of ranking has any virtue it is to loosen the French/Italian stronghold on gastronomy and broaden the spectrum of foodies’ palate. To proof, Pujol’s digestive alcohol cart serves only mezcal, from small farmers using different varieties of agave.
His signature dish is both fabulously simple and incredibly elaborated : the Mole Madre (pictured) is a sauce and nothing but, well two mole sauces actually, the clear one fresh of the day and the dark one resulting from a seemingly forever cooking version of the same, in which new ingredients are added each day. At the time of filming the mole was refined for 895 days and must have been so well over a thousand by now. It is the mother of all sauces and must have an incredible richness of flavour, which makes one wanting to hop on a flight to Mexico and have a go at it.
Traditionally, the end of the chef portrait displays a succession of his must-have dishes glamorously lit in their immaculately-dressed glory, and what is striking in Olivera’s case is that, based as they are on traditional Mexican fares like tacos or tortillas, most of the plates present themselves as perfect circles. It is a Master class in form and function nourishing each other. It will also make you want to lick your TV screen. Viewer discretion advised.