Regional diversity, culinary challenges and Mexican food overseas: top chefs discuss

Jorge Aguayo - 26/03/2015

Our first #50BestTalks Mexico round table was of particular significance for some: this year, we’re moving Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants from Peru to Mexico for the first time, and the local chefs, foodies and restaurateurs are starting to get excited. Mexican food blogger and entrepreneur Jorge Aguayo, AKA ComensalenDF, joined the round table on behalf of 50 Best to report on the day’s events.

Yesterday was a special day for all Mexicans who love good food. Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants gathered some of the country’s top chefs, media experts and restaurateurs, with one main goal: to discuss Mexican cuisine and how its regional differences influence the perception of our country, both overseas and at home.

A round table of the country’s best chefs could only take place somewhere exceptional, and what better place than Rosetta, No. 33 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014. We were welcomed with open arms by our chef and host Elena Reygadas, the Veuve Clicquot Latin America’s Best Female Chef 2014, who surprised us with dish after dish of wonderful food, including a course of live ants with ricotta cheese.

The main goal of the #50BestTalks event, which was moderated by Pablo Baños, 50 Best Academy Chair for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, was to discuss the specific regional cuisines of Mexico and their role in the overall image of Mexican gastronomy. Below, I’ve summed up a few of the main discussion points from what was a thoroughly exhilarating debate. Get in touch and let me know what you think!

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What is the current state of Mexican restaurants overseas?

We all agreed it’s difficult, but not impossible, to find good, authentic Mexican restaurants outside our country – but we’re aware this happens with other countries’ cuisines too. Our ingredients aren’t easy to export, so a regular meal for Mexicans can also become expensive when eaten abroad. That said, it is possible to export a few core ingredients, and if we also export preparation methods, we can create some really decent Mexican food outside the country.

Mexican restaurants are also often focused on profit first and passion for food second. The panel agreed this approach needs to be reversed – we need to deliver outstanding cuisine with passion, and prosperity will follow.

Pedro Evia, chef at Kuuc in Merida, Yucatán, said that as well as promoting Mexican food abroad, we also need to find a way to turn Mexico into a gastronomic destination, as Spain already is.

How come we have so much gastronomic diversity across Mexico? 

Alicia Gironella, chef and founder of El Tajin restaurant in Mexico City, explained that the differences across Mexican cuisine are thanks to the country’s vast biodiversity, culture and the abundance of natural ingredients. She talked passionately about our core ingredient, corn, and urged the panel to avoid genetically modified production to help save the crop.

How can we extend the legacy of Mexican cuisine to our young future chefs and restaurateurs?

Everyone at the table agreed on a desire to return to the classroom as teachers to help motivate our young people and encourage them to find their real calling. We need to teach young people that it’s as important to gain experience between a restaurant’s four walls as it is to have academic qualifications – a notion reinforced by the event sponsor, BBVA, which is running an initiative to nurture young talent across Latin America. Finally, our chefs pointed out that being a cook is not about being famous, it’s about passion for food and serving others.

What are the challenges when a new regional Mexican cuisine is born?

We know Mexico is a great producer and exporter of fruit and vegetables. In some cases 100% of the production is exported, and because of this, places like Ensenada suffer a lack of quality ingredients. This was one of the challenges that Benito Molina, chef at Manzanilla, No. 25 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014, had to deal with at the beginning – convincing Mexican producers to deliver quality ingredients to a new region of Mexican food: Baja California.

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This great discussion had to end with an outstanding meal by our host restaurant Rosetta. Chef Reygadas served an eight-course tasting menu, using several ingredients from an interesting variety of sources: oysters, shrimp, corn, octopus, veal and live ‘honey ants,’ (above) all demonstrating the diversity of our cuisine.

With thanks to BBVA, Official Banking Sponsor of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2014