Mesamerica 2013: Dispatch by Geeta Bansal, Part 1!

Geeta conversing with Mexican chef Enrique Olvera
Geeta conversing with Mexican chef Enrique Olvera

Every week, Clay Oven Irvine executive chef/owner Geeta Bansal shares an interview that she's done with some of the heavyweights of world cooking. Today, she regales us with a dispatch from Mesamerica 2013, one of the world's premier chef conferences. Enjoy!

Geeta Bansal Reports on Mesamerica 2013 in Mexico City, Part 1

The most significant observation...... Most chefs love to demo dishes involving an egg actually three demos at least in three days based on egg yolks!

Mesamerica 2013: Dispatch by Geeta Bansal, Part 1!
Egg yolk brulee (top) and egg yolk on a stick (bottom)
Egg yolk brulee (top) and egg yolk on a stick (bottom)

Jokes apart it was a great culinary event held in the Auditorio Blackberry in Mexico City, Mexico. The real credit for initiating the whole thing goes to Chef Enrique Olvera, who has brought global attention to Mexico with his restaurant Pujol, placing 17th in the World's Best 50 list. This second Mesamerica was organized by the Colectivo Mexicano De Cocina A.C with the involvement of the Secretaria de Agricultura, Secretaria de Turismo and numerous sponsors. In a conversation with Enrique Olvera on the last day of the event, he said in a conversation with me that he was unsure of how many of these events we would be attending in the future as he thought it would be replaced by some other format in the next few years (Never fear, the next one was announced during the closing ceremony this year).

Latin American food scene is becoming more distinct and significant part of the global food buzz. Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela and new in this conversation Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador amongst others. At this time there is a great culinary change occurring in Mexico and many young chefs have entered the fray bringing new flavor combinations and techniques while reintroducing forgotten ingredients and artisanal products. Culinarily speaking, it is an exciting time in Mexico and I have to say that in this respect, Mexico can hold its own against any other gastro tourist center in the world. This change is occurring at all price points and not just the fancy restaurants but permeating down to the street and the countryside. I will love to go back to enjoy the great food at restaurants like Quintonil, Biko, Pujol, Contramar, Azul Condessa, Paxia, and of course the tacos al pastor on every street corner.

Chef Ricardo Munoz Zurita at the inauguration of Mesamerica
Chef Ricardo Munoz Zurita at the inauguration of Mesamerica

I always look forward to attending these events, as they give us chefs a chance to interact with other chefs, exchange ideas and experiences, meet old and new friends from around the world. How else can I be with Andoni Aduriz of Mugaritz, Spain and David Kinch of Manresa, Los Gatos at the same time one night and with Massimo Bottura, of Italy, Bruno and Mikel from San Sebastian (and now of Mexico), Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of 11 Madison another evening or at a late night event with Rene Redzepi, of Denmark, Alex Atala, Brazil, Enrique Olvera of Mexico to name a few on another night? I had interesting conversations with Gaston Acurio, my friends Virgilio Martinez and Karime Lopez of Peru, Jorge Vallejo, Daniel Ovadia, Pablo Salas, my co-survivor Thelma Morgan, Ricardo Zurita of Mexico, Carlos Garcia of Venezuela, Jordi Roca, Eneko Atxa, and Sergio Puig of Spain, Inaki Izpitarte, France and many more that I will introduce in subsequent interviews.

Carlo Petrini of Slow Food
Carlo Petrini of Slow Food

The event opened with a very eloquent speech by Carlo Petrini of Slow Food. He was introduced by Massimo Bottura, a fellow Italian. Pettrini spoke passionately about the need to preserve the dignity and pride of small producers. He said the strategy of getting chefs together with producers is the only solution for humanity and mankind. He paid homage to mothers and grandmothers cooking in their kitchens keeping traditions alive. He was eloquent in expressing his concern about the prevalence of junk food and how it was destroying the health of people and the economy of small producers. He encouraged Mexicans in the audience to fight to maintain the true identity of their food culture.

I always love to listen to Petrini, being a member of Slow Food (Indian cuisine is the one of the earliest examples of slow cooking, as is true for any ancient culture), because he so believes in this cause and young chefs and culinary students in the audience hopefully took some part of this conversation back to their workplace to become the nucleus for change in their world.

The first day also had presenters like Rafael Ortega and Arturo Ortiz, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli of New York who explained their chef in residency proposal( kind of confusing), Martin Kastner of Crucial details, discussing the design concepts.He showed slides of the custom serveware he has created for Grant Achatz at Alinea, Chicago.  

Gaston Acurio on Stage
Gaston Acurio on Stage

After lunch, one of the highlights of the day was Gaston Acurio of Peru, who demonstrated some dishes with his sous chef and introduced some of the varieties of potatoes in Peru of which there are a few thousand or so. He said that every time he creates a dish, he is trying to tell a specific story through it. Gaston introduced his passionate involvement in the rural communities accompanied by a film clip. He said chefs need to venture out of their kitchens and get involved in their community for the future of gastronomy. (More in an upcoming interview with Gaston)

A Dish Demonstrated by Gaston Acurio
A Dish Demonstrated by Gaston Acurio

Pau Arenós, food writer from Spain who along with Ferran Adria coined the term "techno emotional cuisine" (Really!), who as a part of his narrative said that without tradition there is no modernity!!!

Sergio Puig of 41 Degrees, Barcelona by Ferran and Albert Adria, discussing their service philosophy
Sergio Puig of 41 Degrees, Barcelona by Ferran and Albert Adria, discussing their service philosophy

Sergio Puig of Ferran and Albert Adria's restaurant 41 Degrees in Barcelona spoke about their concept of device accompanied by an interesting short clip of the restaurant. His narrative was accompanied by very informative slides and he had the audience engrossed in his descriptions of the food, service and decor of the restaurant. (My interviews with Albert Adria and Sebastian Mazzola, chef of 41 Degrees, were in OC Weekly earlier this year).

Carlos Garcia of Alto, Caracas, Venezuela
Carlos Garcia of Alto, Caracas, Venezuela

Carlos Garcia the Venezuelan chef discussed how his cuisine as an homage to his homeland and its culture. His restaurant Alta, in Caracas Venezuela has gotten a lot of international attention recently. Garcia feels deeply about his country and its future was evident in his statement that "Our country is fractured and needs help."

Garcia's Ossobuco Negro
Garcia's Ossobuco Negro

His visuals of the beautiful countryside and his almost poetic representations of the landscapes on his plates was a highlight of the afternoon. I told him later that that was the next place I wanted to visit and he said to wait a while and come when things were better in his homeland. His honesty and concern made a fan out of me for this very talented, simple, gentle man.

Massimo Bottura at Mesamerica
Massimo Bottura at Mesamerica

For me, the best part on the first day was listening to Massimo Bottura who along with his sous chef, David, gave one of the most interesting food demonstrations of the day. He is a very interesting speaker, artist, chef and person.

I particularly remember his encouragement to know your talents, acknowledge your habits, to guide your passion for food with rationality and emotion. He encouraged chefs to look at classic recipes with new eyes. He spoke about putting identity, poetry, technology all together while creating new recipes. I concurred when he said that as chefs we take ingredients that are raw and chaotic and transform them into orderly edible ideas.

I still remember the hilarious film he showed at the Gastronomika last year and his sense of humor is one of his most endearing qualities. His restaurant Osteria Fransescana in Modena, Italy has garnered the third spot in the worlds 50 best restaurants in the world.

He demonstrated his camouflage plate and another dish to resemble a handful of leaves under a tree in autumn. The poetry of everyday under our feet. That night we were conversing after dinner and that we would be meeting in September in Modena and he said he would love to continue our conversation in his kitchen.

Bottura's Camouflage Plate
Bottura's Camouflage Plate

Thus ended Day 1 of the conference, with two more days to follow with a whole galaxy of international stars such as Rene Redzepi, Alex Atala, Daniel Humm, Andoni Aduriz, David Kinch, and many more.

To be continued...

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