Enrique Olvera — Cook What You Know. Chef’s Table, V.2 E.4
I’m back with your guide to Chef’s Table, Volume 2 Episode 4, featuring Mexican chef Enrique Olvera. This was a good episode. (Although Chef’s Table may be getting old.) Check out the last episode, which featured Dominique Crenn. Also a good episode, if you’re wondering.
MEXICO CITY TO OAXACA
Enrique Olvera was born in Mexica city, raised in Mexico city, and today cooks in Mexico City. But he draws a lot of influence from Oaxacan cuisine. Try spelling that five times. Oaxaca. I’ll spare you and do it just the once. You pronounce it sort of like “waa-haca,” by the way.
Enrique went to culinary school in New York before returning to Mexico. He fundraised for his restaurant, which originally served a sort of weird Mexican-French fine dining fusion. He was cooking European fine dining style using Mexican ingredients. And he was a hardass around his chefs, until the day he realized everyone would cook a little better if they had some fun while they were at it. Then, his restaurant Pujol began taking off.
I liked the part of the episode where a famous Mexican chef set Enrique straight, telling him he was Mexican and had a responsibility to cook Mexican food.
Also, Enrique reminds me of Roberto, the proprietor of a fabulous Mexican restaurant in Union Square in Somerville. It’s called Cantina la Mexicana. You should try it out if you’re ever in the area. (And invite me along!)
Through his cooking, Enrique got in touch with his Mexican identity. I think this is an important point and one of the highlights of Chef’s Table in general: food is an integral part of culture. When you don’t eat the food of your culture, the food you grew up with, you become disconnected, or at least you feel disconnected.
Above: Several examples of dishes created by Enrique Olvera at his restaurant Pujol, including his famous “Mole Madre” (second picture).
Proud to be Mexican…
This episode is a reminder that you cook the things you know better than the things you don’t know.
It’s the same deal with the old phrase “write what you know.” It’s true, you will always cook/write/paint what you know better than what you don’t. This doesn’t mean that a Mexican chef can’t produce great French food, it’s just to say his Mexican food would be deeper. The real reordering we need to do in the culinary world is to recognize all cuisines as equals. Similarly, in the literary world, we need to recognize the creations of many different people as equally worthy of merit. (Let’s quit being food and book snobs!)
If you’re interested in learning more about Enrique Olvera and his cooking, read this article from the New York Times Magazine.
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