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Building on the Past

Taking his cues from ancient Mexican culinary techniques and flavours, the country’s chef du jour is out to prove Mexican cuisine deserves a spot on the global scene

The first thing that Mexican chef Enrique Olvera wants you to know about his country’s cuisine is that it’s much, much more than the tacos and burritos sold on street corners across the Americas. It’s a preconception the beloved chef has challenged since he opened his first restaurant, Pujol, in Mexico City, where, for the last twenty-one years, he’s been concocting dishes aimed at transforming the country’s rustic, ancestral flavours into modern haute cuisine. “I believe the rest of the world needs to see [Mexican] food through a different lens,” says Olvera – and, considering Pujol’s stature among the world’s best restaurants as well as the chef’s ever-growing culinary empire spanning the world, it seems that he’s certainly on the right track.


Driving the menus at Olvera’s numerous restaurants is his Mexican heritage, moreover, the oft-forgotten recipes and techniques used since the days of the Aztecs. “Food is never just about filling stomachs,” says the chef. “Every dish has a story, is shaped by the hand cooking it, the region, its produce and the weather; by the techniques from our families, by the places we have visited and loved.”


Take, for instance, a grilled fish dish at his latest restaurant Carao at the One&Only Mandarina along Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit. To create his pescado zarandeado, chef Olvera marinates a fish in an adobo mix of chillis and spices before throwing it on the grill. Of course, in Carao’s rendition, a dash of miso adds an extra dose of umami to the dish. Rounding out the experience is the eatery’s aesthetic, designed around the concept of a palapa – tiny seaside restaurants normally run by fishermen’s families, where you can spend the day, feet buried in sand, eating freshly caught fish and sipping cold cervezas.


This level of care for Mexican dining, in all facets, is what has helped propel Carao and Pujol – and all of Olvera’s restaurants – to the very top of just about every gastronome’s bucket list, and, with menu staples like a seven-course Mexican-style omakase and a mole madre that’s been simmering for over five years, it’s easy to see why. “I believe we have arrived at a place where progress is not only about ourselves: for us, it is deeply related to the impact we have on the ecosystems and communities our activity is related to. It is a concern we share with a lot of people and luckily that concern will become, not a tradition, but a main principle that will lead our work as an industry.”


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