Congreso Ensenada Gastronomica convened in June at Ensenada’s Hotel Coral, featuring top chefs and starstruck culinary students from across Mexico, who converged for a full slate of cooking demos. Street Gourmet LA founder Bill Esparza and I had the opportunity to interview four of the nation’s preeminent chefs: Tabasco’s Aquiles Chavez, the Yucatan’s Arturo Fernandez, Ensenada-based Benito Molina and Mexico City’s Mikel Alonso. I asked, “What will it take for Mexico’s cuisine to be recognized more internationally?” Read their responses, in anticipation of Baja Culinary Fest.
Aquiles Chavez (LO Cocina de Autor Signature Restaurant)
For me as a Mexican cook, it’s very important, the product. That’s the reason, because we are here in Baja, California, but maybe the success right now with Mexican food is the success of Mexican chefs who are working the same way, the same side. I’m talking about Mexican local product. I’m talking about the natural products, I’m talking about the local cuisine. We make local cuisine [with a global vision. The goal is to take local food and sell it out of Mexico. We make local cuisine with the vision of world cuisine.
Arturo Fernandez (LAOS)
We have been dealing with outside forces that have influenced us. We believe in what we are doing. We are united and we have a friendship and a brotherhood that is trying to revive our own traditions that we are bringing to the national scene. Right now in the 50 best restaurants in the world, two of them are here in Mexico. Many other countries can’t make this claim. In 10 years, we will be #1. The best chef will be Mexican. We wil pass within the next 7-8 years.
Benito Molina (Manzanilla)
I think it’s going to take more fine dining restaurants promoting the local produce. On the other hand, we were named Patrimonio Cultural y Natural Humanidad by UNESCO. Very few cuisines in the world have this recognition, and like I say, lately I’ve been taking trips to South America, and Oaxaca alone is more intricate that most of Latin America. Oaxaca’s just one state. We have 32 more states. The richness of what we have here is unquestionable. Where would European food be without tomatoes? Tomatoes came from here. Where would the chocolate world be without cacao that came from here? Or vanilla that came from here? Mexican cuisine is not recognized as it should because not many Mexican chefs have opened fine dining restaurants abroad. There are excellent fine dining restaurants in Mexico, but there are very few, we have only one fine dining restaurant outside of Mexico.
Mikel Alonso (Biko)
This is something very sensible. Cooking with truth and honesty. To work every day. You have to work, and to not fall into the trap of Hollywood stardom. We are chefs, not rock stars. To buy the best products and to have the sufficient technique to make them delicious. When the client goes to your restaurant with their mouth and their eyes, they have an experience that leaves them with a smile, and to feel that they’re in their house. You don’t have to have all these other things.
Thank you to Street Gourmet LA founder Bill Esparza for transcribing the bulk of these interviews from Spanish, except for our interview with Benito Molina, which was in English.