Mesamerica, Part 2: Geeta Bansal at One of the Most Prestigious Food Conferences in the World!

Geeta with Pablo Salas and their piggy friend...
Geeta with Pablo Salas and their piggy friend...

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!

Mesamerica Day 2 By Geeta Bansal, Clay Oven Irvine executive chef

The last image of the first day of Mesamerica in Mexico City that stayed with me till the next morning was chef Massimo Bottura (of the restaurant Osteria Fransescana, Modena, Italy, which is currently ranked #3 in 2013 according to San Pellegrino) showing his regard and affection for his sous chef David up on stage. Later that night I was able to spend time with the both of them and could tell that it was a very genuine emotion and was heartwarming to see. These are moments that show the true personality of these people and help understand why they are so highly regarded by their peers.

Massimo Bottura and Sous Chef David
Massimo Bottura and Sous Chef David

The second day began with Fulvio Eccardi who discussed ingredients, biodiversity and the value of origin. He was followed by one of the most interesting presenters that morning, our very own David Kinch of Manresa, Los Gatos. In my opinion he is one of the most talented chefs in our country and the nicest human being to boot.

David Kinch of Manresa, Los Gatos, California
David Kinch of Manresa, Los Gatos, California

A highlight of his demonstration was the buckwheat popcorn he created. Squid ink, boudin noir, rice crispies (actually little fried cubes of cooked rice) were all part of his demo along with a video clip of the kitchens at Manresa and of Love Apple Farms that grows all of his produce.

David Kinch's Buckwheat popcorn
David Kinch's Buckwheat popcorn

He was followed by Adam Goldberg, food blogger from 'A life Worth Eating' spoke about tasting menus and their caloric content. Lots of charts and diagrams, so he kind of lost the audience interest for a while. But the subject matter is of interest to chefs with elaborate tasting menus requiring a few hours at the table.

Gabriela Camara of Contramar the seafood restaurant in the city was one of the few women chefs represented on stage. Camara said that our hospitality industry is in fact the industry of generosity and stressed the importance of courteous service.

Then came chef Pablo Salas of Amarante, Mexico who demonstrated pork and its various presentations and had a little piglet as part of his demo. It created a mystery for a while in the green room as we all conjectured on the source of the squealing. I was with Gaston Acurio and Virgilio Martinez and we were guessing if it was a goat, a child or what till Pablo strode in with the little thing tucked under his arm!

Inaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand, Paris
Inaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand, Paris

After lunch, Inaki Aizpitarte along with film maker Nanda Fernandez took the stage. Their film clip of Inaki strolling the streets in Andalusia, Spain with his kids and a little cooler with egg yolks that he brûléed with a blow torch and served on a daquoise like an open sandwich to passer bys was endearing and hilarious at the same time. Inaki is a talented Basque chef who's Le Chateaubriand restaurant in Paris should be on everyone's to do list. (more about that in an interview with him).

Inaki serving his eggs on the street in Spain
Inaki serving his eggs on the street in Spain

 

Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil, Mexico City, Mexico
Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil, Mexico City, Mexico

Jorge Vallejo from Quintonil, which is now one of my favourite restaurants in Mexico City, demonstrated dishes using ingredients from the regional and traditional food cultures of Mexico including the herb quintonil after which his restaurant is named. His cactus sorbet tasting plates never made it to us there, but I was able to taste it at his restaurant later. Jorge and his wife Alejandra were some of the most interesting and talented people I enjoyed meeting in Mexico.

Jorge Vallejo's Cactus Sorbet
Jorge Vallejo's Cactus Sorbet

Will Guidara and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park were next and told their story of how their restaurant (currently #5 on the World's 50 Best) opened and the challenges they overcame to be where they are today. Chef Humm narrated an interesting story about how they started procuring Amagansett salt from Long Island and ended up partnering with the small producer and now source their entire salt for use at Eleven Madison Park from him. Their collaborative talk was aptly named "In Pursuit Of Collaboration" to emphasize the connection between the kitchen and dining room as part of the same team. Will Guidara gave an example of a busboy at the restaurant with a keen interest in tea and how they brought him in to take charge of the tea operations and selections at the restaurant.

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park, NYC--sorry for the blurriness!
Daniel Humm and Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park, NYC--sorry for the blurriness!

Emiliano Godoy the industrial designer explained his concept of sustainable furniture. It was an interesting presentation though by then, I was suffering from information overload. There was more to come. Elena Reygadas the bread maker par excellence and judging by the crowd's reaction a clear favorite was next. According to her, making a profit should not drive your efforts, and the craft should be kept alive for professional and human satisfaction. The visuals and demos are great but I wish we got to taste her breads which all locals in the audience around me were admonishing not to leave Mexico City without tasting. My next visit for sure.

Eneko Axta of Azurmendi, Spain
Eneko Axta of Azurmendi, Spain

Eneko Atxa (the young chef from San Sebastian, Spain whose Azurmendi restaurant shot to prominence in two short years and who recently got his third Michelin star) talked about his creative process at Azurmendi. He is a charming unassuming young chef whose talent you have to enjoy by visiting Azurmendi (for all those requesting help with reservations I will do my best to get you in!).

Andoni Aduriz and Oswaldo Oliva of Mugaritz, Spain
Andoni Aduriz and Oswaldo Oliva of Mugaritz, Spain

My favourite intellectual chef from Mugaritz, chef Andoni Aduriz with sous chef Oswaldo Oliva (who hails from Mexico) was the last presenter and came with his slick little film about the macaron de Caza that I had seen last year at the San Sebastian Gastronomika . He got some volunteers on stage to play his "Guess what's in my grapes" game (the grapes were created out of melons with pips of seafood inserted in one instance) and then he tested their palate further with his macarons (I wrote about them in my interview with Aduriz earlier this year).

Members of the audience onstage with Aduriz
Members of the audience onstage with Aduriz

It changed my taste of chocolate macarons forever as he replaced fresh pigs blood for the albumen from egg whites. It was a pleasure to see how the local audience applauded for Oswaldo and he teared up. I told him later that he certainly made his Mexico and his family and friends like us proud.

The long exhausting but very interesting second day of Mesamerica ended on a high note. The next day would feature Rene Redzepi, Alex Atala, Virgilio Martinez and many other superstars.

Email: garellano@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @gustavoarellano.

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