The Changing Landscape of Mexican Cuisine on Display at Pacificooks

Mexican cuisine

Mexican cuisinefrom like water for chocolate to fine dining

In the late Twentieth Century, a smattering of rogue French chefs changed the landscape of France’s national cuisine. A second French Revolution of sorts, the arrival of nouvelle cuisine relieved French food of its heavy sauces and overblown heartiness. Thank you Paul Bocuse, Louis Outhier and my personal culinary hero, Michel Guérard for stripping French food down to its most sexy roots.

Next came California cuisine, a movement meant to celebrate the natural flavors of America’s finest food sources. Chefs like Michael McCarty and Jeremiah Tower made Americans fall in love with home grown, hormone free ducks, Meyer lemons and garden herbs – aphrodisiacs all.

Today, it’s Mexico’s turn. One of the most popular and probably most misunderstood cuisines in the world, Mexican cuisine is ripe for an update. And so, as is the tradition in the evolution of such things, a group of young, Mexican chefs is taking up the charge to bring traditional, Mexican foods out of the past and into the future of fine dining.

In order to showcase this new wave, Chef Antonio De Livier and the Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach Resort has collaborated with chefs from across Mexico, working to help their nation’s cuisine evolve. Called PacifiCooks, this annual, groundbreaking series of multi-course dinners is in its second year. The concept of PacifiCooks is as much for the chefs as it is for guests. The dinners partner up the chefs in pairs to invent a dish on the fly a la Top Chef. The results are wildly creative reworking of dishes that may sound familiar but look nothing like the nightly special at Chi Chi’s.

Leading Chefs of Mexican CuisineA PacifiCooks menu might include a deconstructed shrimp cocktail with a smoked shrimp over tomato/lime tapioca, miso glazed sea bass with a pork enchilada and pickled watermelon cubes, quail with a huitlacoche tamal. Each course is paired with a beverage that either reflects tradition, like a chicken mole served with Mexican beer, or the future, like scallop ceviche with a Sauvignon Blanc from Baja’s burgeoning wine country. The results are sexy, seductive and, at times, almost dangerous (like a mezcal and uni sangrita).

This collaboration of chefs refuses to put a name to their cuisine other than to describe it as a “contemporary” rendition of Mexican food. (And, yes, like American cuisine, regionalism plays as much a part in the evoloution of fine dining as does ingenuity.) The chefs, at least the eight with whom I sat down for margaritas and a little homebrewed “fire water” ( it is essential to metabolize huge amounts of alcohol if you want hang with a bunch of chefs), all agree that Mexico had ample fine dining options prior to the mid-90’s. But the cuisine that was considered fine dining in the past was predominantly French, or at least build upon French cooking techniques, explains Chef Federico Lopez, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. His posse, which includes Paulina Abascal, Benito Molina, Margarita de Salinas and host-chef Antonio De Livier offer tacit agreement.

Today, Mexico’s finest chefs are returning to their roots, tapping into those ancient, aphrodisiac techniques that made Like Water for Chocolate such a steamy read. Imagine a cuisine built from moles passed down through memory, handmade chorizo and, of course, delicate aphrodisiacs like the book’s potent rose petal sauce.

Will their work revolutionize a nation’s cuisine to the degree that Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck’s philosophies changed food in the United States? Perhaps the change will be more subtle, but it is rooted in a far greater and more significant tradition. And, most importantly, it is a cuisine that comes from deep in its chefs’ hearts, spilling out and onto the plate with true Latin passion.

PacifiCooks is an annual summer event. To learn more, visit http://www.pueblobonito.com
Can’t wait a year? Invent your own gastronomic tour to the dining hot spots of PacifiCooks’ headliners:

Cabo San Lucas
Chef Antonio de Livier’s La Frida, www.pueblobonitosunsetbeach.com
Chef Margarita de Salinas’ Don Emilliano Restaurant

Ensenada
Chef Bonito Molina’s La Manzanilla, www.lamanzanilla.com

Mexico City
Chef Enrique Olvera’s Pujol Restaurant, www.pujol.com.mx
Chef Daniel Ovadia’s Paxia, www.paxia.com.mx

Additional participating chefs in the 2008 PacifiCooks included Ricardo Munoz Zurita, Bianca Castro, Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain, Armando Montano, Carlos Valdez Aguilar and Chef Gilberto Del Toro Coello.

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