MXUK2015 Mexico and United kingdom restaurant festival
Several months ago was honoured to be asked by the Mexican tourist board to be one of 8 chefs from the uk to take part in a culinary exchange with a top Mexican chef. The Festival is to promote the gastronomy of Mexico and promote better understanding between Mexican and UK societies. Each chef takes part by flying over to the chefs restaurant they are paired with and cooking a dinner with them both in the UK and Mexico.http://visitmexico.com/en/restaurants-festival-UK-MX
After a nightmare 36 hour journey (should have been 20) which included being stuck in Newark airport for 8 hours, resulting in missing two connecting flights to Mexico, a quick stay over in a cheap hotel in Houston and lots of queuing, we finally made it to Monterrey on Tuesday morning the 21st of July. Would like to add if we hadn't have got stuck in Newark airport we wouldn't have got to have a drink and a chat with Tom Watson's son and caddie whilst watching the end of The Open unfold - every cloud! Myself and Joey (aka Liam Davies) were knackard and couldn't even take our bags to the hotel in Houston for a change of clothes!
When finally in Monterrey the airport to hotel transfer took us quickly through Monterrey's industrial area and downtown until we reached the financial district. The view was stunning, the huge city has a backdrop of striking steep mountains, creating a beautiful horizon.
At the Hotel we finally met Alfredo Villanueva the chef and owner of Romero Y Azahar whom I had been paired with. He took us straight out to have our first taste of proper tacos in a little side restaurant built around a food van that you would easily drive past and not know was there. We then went on to check out his restaurant where we were cooking at and have a little bit of a Mexican beer tasting. The restaurant was great and felt like a perfect setting for our collaboration dinner, it felt relaxed, informal and modern, yet still slick and professional. After this we were driven to a fish restaurant to have lunch, the food was brilliant and it was great to taste a wide array of Pacific Ocean fish. We met up with Lee Westcott of http://www.typingroom.com (who was cooking the day before me at Pangea restaurant), his assistant Ben Gallier and the chef he was paired with Guillermo Gonzalez Beristain, had several beers and gorged on raw scallops, whole roasted red snapper, smoked fish stuffed peppers, whole grilled octopus and tortillas.
After lunch Alfredo took us out for a drive into the mountains, the scenery was amazing, along the road were lots of small man made stone dams which created family sized paddling pools for kids to play in whilst the parents sat watched and cooked on the BBQ. It had great feeling of family and community whilst making the most of what they had in the area and using the crystal clear water to make their own mini beach.
Dinner that night was hosted by Guillermo at his restaurant Pangea http://www.grupopangea.com/pangea/ (No. 12 in the 50 best list of Latin America 2013) Guillermo and his team prepared a very nice tasting menu for us consisting of Foie gras, Rock cod, Quail, local fruits with basil sorbet and New York style beef with ANT EGGS!! The food was french influenced Mexican making the best of the local ingredients. The ant eggs were surprisingly tasty with a very nice texture, in the photos below they are the things on top on the beef that look like crushed pine nuts.
A market visit was next on the agenda for the Wednesday morning, the produce was brilliant and cheap and it was refreshing that the vendors would allow you to taste anything before you bought it. It is always great to taste fruits such as mango, melon and pineapple at there proper ripeness, the sweetness and aroma were unmatched, it is impossible to get them that good in the UK. We tasted the fruit of a type of cactus which is called Tuna and was in the height of its season at the time, it had a nice flavour between cucumber and melon with large hard seeds in amongst it. We had a camera crew following us for the whole day which should make for an interesting film.
After the market Alfredo took us to visit two traditional Mexican Cantina's, the first was more expensive and for lawyers etc and the second one much cheaper for the poorer end of society. Alfredo told us that the cheaper one had a better quality of food as it was more humble and traditional. A Cantina is a bar where they serve very simple and informal Mexican tapas and is traditionally men only. Alfredo ordered us some Tacos, slices of dry boiled pigs liver (surprisingly nice when you add the accompanying salsa and a squeeze of lime), charred chillies and beers. At the second Cantina Alfredo ordered us a classic Mexican dish called Machacado which is dried shredded beef folded through scrambled egg. The flavour was really good backed up by some chillies and spices, and served with a wheat tortilla and a salsa that was crushed table side in a pestle and mortar. Alfredo was right, the cheaper place was better. It was here a guy popped in during our lunch and sold us some Chile piquin/ Chile del monte, a chile the size of a split pea and the hottest thing I have ever eaten, I like spicy food but this made my whole face burn!!!
Later that night was Lee's dinner at Pangea, it was great to finally taste Lee's food although it was a long way to travel when I could have got on the train for one hour to London! Lee prepared two dishes 1- Tartare of Yellow fin tuna with watermelon and puffed quinoa 2- Suckling pig with pineapple. Two fantastic dishes that really whet my appetite to go and visit the typing room as soon as possible.
On to my dinner for the Thursday night at Romero Y Azahar, my three dishes were "Tomato tart, split parmesan pastry, avocado emulsion, chorizo" followed by "Roast and raw scallop, charred watermelon, raw peas" and "Sweetcorn curd, roast pineapple, meringue, lime"
My plan with the menu was to use the best available in season products from Mexico but using them in the same way as I do here in England. The day was tough as we hadn't done any pre-preparation and had to prep the menu for 62 covers in the one day! The feedback was great, the favours and dishes were very different to what the local people were used to but I think it translated well. Whilst preparing for dinner Alfredo sat us down with his business partner and treated us to his beautiful food.
Over all it was an amazing trip and a brilliant way to learn about Mexico's culture and cusine, the food in Mexico reminds me very much of Italy in the way that is steeped tradition, culture, how it changes through the regions, and uses the best ingredients available to them cooking them very simply to promote their natural beauty.
I can't wait for Alfredo to come to the UK to cook with me at Mallory court. The dinner is on the 25th of September and there are still places left should anyone be interested in booking.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alfredo for being the perfect host and teaching us so much about Mexico, his brilliant team for their support and passion, and also the Mexican government/tourist board for inviting me out there it was a real honour.