Reinventing traditional Mexican with extraordinary attention to detail
A modest room in Mexico City’s swanky Polanco district is home to the country’s finest restaurant, housing just 13 tables in an elegantly minimalist and moody monochrome setting. Chef Enrique Olvera may have trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and even opened a restaurant in Manhattan last year, but his cooking is very firmly rooted in his homeland.
He developed his passion for food at his grandparents’ pastry shop and now pays homage to the indigenous cookery of Mexico, employing modern techniques and native ingredients to recreate ancient dishes and invent new ones that showcase unusual flavour combinations. You won’t find foie gras or caviar on the menu, but there is cuitlacoche, a corn fungus, as well as powdered ants in the first courses dedicated entirely to street-food snacks.
There’s no let-up on the innovation as the menu progresses: tamales may be made with bone marrow instead of flour, tostados are infused with octopus ink, and a hidden egg, soft poached, comes inside an inflated tortilla with grasshopper salsa. Meals are concluded with dessert aptly named ‘Happy Endings’ and might include fruit soaked in mescal and ethereally light churros with chocolate.
Part of the appeal of Olvera’s food is that every dish is perfectly curated to the very last detail, with each individual flavour distinctly exposed and emphasised. The complexity of his sauces is phenomenal, with highlights including ‘mole madre, mole nuevo,’ where a young mole sauce is encased in an aged version, rested for more than 600 days. It is this attention to detail that has helped boost Olvera’s reputation across Latin America and beyond, with Pujol consistently voted among the top 10 restaurants in the region and top 20 in the world.
Images: Fiamma Piacentini, Adam Goldberg, Araceli Paz