But Enrique wasn’t satisfied with what he had done in Mexico. In
2012 he launched Mesamérica, a conference that aims to shed global
light on Mexican food. He opened his much-anticipated New York
restaurant, Cosme, in 2014. Naturally, it was a runaway success.
With his one-of-a-kind recipes and passion for Mexico’s culinary
legacy, Enrique Olvera is showing the rest of the world exactly
what they’ve been missing.
We caught up with Enrique on a recent cooking trip to London to
talk quesadillas, ants and mole.
CURIOUS PEAR: Do you think the rest of the world has an
accurate concept of Mexican food?
ENRIQUE OLVERA: It is hard to know Mexican
cuisine. Mexico is so large and there are so many regions that not
even Mexicans know it well. When people travel they synthesise the
traditional processes and you end up with something superficial.
But in general people are becoming more aware, and there are
several chefs that are contributing to that awareness. For instance
Thomasina Miers in the UK with Wahaca, Paco Mendez and Albert Adria
with Hoja Santa in Barcelona.
CP: What do you think are the main misconceptions about
EO: Here in the UK, it is that it is cheap. But
Mexican food is not cheap. It is created using the highest quality
ingredients and is very labour intensive. If you put a lobster on
top of a tortilla there is this perception that it is cheap, but at
the end of the day you are still paying for that lobster.
CP: You’ve been described as someone who is reinventing
Mexican cuisine, in what ways have you strived to do
EO: The intention was not to reinvent Mexican
cuisine, but to make dishes that are personal based on what we
know, but also trying to cook in a way that is honest to our
principles. The result was a reinvention, but that was never the
CP: How has your cooking changed over the
EO: It appears to have got a lot simpler, but
in fact it has actually got more complicated. We have been
synthesising our work and building up, creating things that are
true to Mexican flavours. For example our Mother Mole, Mole Madre,
which is Pujol’s contemporary version of the classic mole negro. We
started out with a recipe for a seven-day mole, traditionally
reheated over the course of a week (the usual length of a
celebration). After seven days we then wondered what would happen
if we continued heating it indefinitely and found that the mole
never stopped evolving. Since then, we have been reheating it every
day for over 700 days, adding new ingredients that vary according
to season. I find mole to be a fascinating, laborious and complex
expression. Since mole is a universe in itself, we present it with
tortillas, nothing else.
CP: Describe true Mexican flavours in three
EO: Powerful, vibrant and fresh.
CP: Tell us about your new book, Mexico from the Inside
Out. What was the inspiration behind it?
EO: Street food, tradition and produce of
Mexico – those are the three main inspirations and there are
chapters dedicated to each of them.
CP: How did you go about choosing the recipes in your
EO: The book is divided into two sections. Side
A is the greatest hits of the last five years at Pujol. Side B
includes recipes that we believe a lot of people can cook at home.
They are easy to make, if you have the right ingredients, but also
relevant to different occasions.
CP: What is a dish that defines your
EO: I have eaten a lot of quesadillas in my
life. Not the cheap ones with flour and fake cheese, but the ones
made with heirloom corn. The first time I realised I was truly
Mexican was when I ate a quesadilla in Oaxaca. An old lady in the
market with wrinkled hands filled the tortilla with quesillo Oaxaca
cheese and squash blossoms.
CP: And one that defines your adult life?
EO: Baby corn with chicatana ant, coffee, and
chile costeño mayonnaise, which is a welcoming appetiser at Pujol.
I first tasted hormiga chicatanas (ants) during a trip to Sierra
Sur coffee plantation in Oaxaca with chef Alex Ruiz, from Casa
Oaxaca. I was mesmerised by their flavour, but above all, by the
chance to eat something as exceptional as these flying insects that
appear only during the first two June rainfalls in certain regions
within Mexico. It made me realise that in traditional cooking, you
can also find new things and flavours that mean something. My visit
to that farm sparked the creation of a dish that today plays an
important role at Pujol.
CP: What is your favourite food market in
EO: Tlacolula market in Oaxaca. They have
communal grills so you can choose your food – including live
turkeys – and cook it in the market. There is also great bread
CP: What has been the best street food experience you
have had in Mexico?
EO: La Guerrerense, Ensenada, Baja California,
a seafood cart established in 1960 by the late Alberto Oviedo and
his wife that makes amazing clams with abalone and 13 different
salsas. [rich-link title=”Clerkenwell Boy’s Guide to Eating in
CP: What do you like to do most when you are visiting
EO: Eat! And I love running in Hyde Park.
CP: What is next for you?
EO: Enjoying life!
As always. Mexico from the Inside Out by
Enrique Olvera is published by Phaidon (£39.95)
only takes a few chefs to breathe life into a flailing
cuisine. Anyone who has been to Mexico will have memories saturated
with flavour – out there, food is woven into the culture. Yet here
in England our perception of this colourful cuisine has long been
shaped by bad restaurants and supermarket packet meals (sombrero
cartoon, check. Grated cheese, check). It wasn’t until the birth of
Wahaca, Thomasina Miers’ street food institution, that London
started tasting Mexican food for what it truly is: vibrant, zesty
But it is Enrique Olvera, Mexico’s most celebrated chef, who is
most often sited as the catalyst for the world’s newfound obsession
with the cuisine. Olvera opened his first restaurant, Pujol, in his hometown of Mexico City in 2000. Three
years later it was named the 16th best restaurant in the world, by
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and won praise from the biggest
names in the food game. From Pujol’s kitchens, Olvera weaved
together his passion for classic Mexican recipes with rare
ingredients and elaborate flavour combinations. The results marked
a new kind of Mexican gastronomy, and put Mexico City on the map as
a culinary hub.