How Mexico’s best restaurant Pujol used the pandemic to double-down on its sustainable principles

Mark Sansom - 23/12/2020

Enrique Olvera’s world-famous Pujol in Mexico City earned the Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award as part of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020. Today, the pioneering Mexican chef tells 50 Best how he used the period of enforced closure as an opportunity to examine every aspect of his flagship restaurant’s supply chain

Almost universally, the global pandemic has been disastrous for hospitality businesses. Despite that, numerous chefs have cited the enforced hiatus to traditional trading as an opportunity for introspection, greater planning and to think creatively about what their business will look like when the world returns to a semblance of normality.

For Enrique Olvera, the chef-owner behind Mexico City’s Pujol, which ranked No.5 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020 and received The Best Restaurant in Mexico title, it marked the opportunity to develop his restaurant’s already sophisticated sustainable strategy. “We are very proud to win the Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award,” says Olvera. “Two years ago, I set it as a goal for my team and me to win this award. We are very pleased to succeed here, but it isn’t the end. We can always improve our practices and be better for our ecosystems and our community.

“When we moved to the new location of Pujol more than three years ago, we planned a restaurant with a rainwater harvesting system. We also set a system to optimise our consumption of energy, established systems to compost our organic waste and made a raised bed garden for pollinators. I wouldn’t say this was the first thing on this journey, but it was important for us conceiving a restaurant that works daily to neutralise its impact on the ecosystem.”

Meet Enrique Olvera as he explains Pujol's sustainabile philosophy:

The Flor de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award is independently adjudicated by Food Made Good Global, 50 Best’s sustainability audit partner. All restaurants voted onto Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list are given the opportunity to be assessed by the organisation, which looks at every element of a restaurant’s operational structure, from its processes regarding waste, to the sustainability of its workforce and core ecological and social principles. For 2020, the assessment criteria was adjusted to reflect the impact of the pandemic.

During the months of closure, Olvera completely overhauled Pujol’s menu to promote a fresh range of environmentally focussed principles. All ingredients are now 100% traceable back to the person who grows or rears them which, according to Olvera, underpins what it means to be a truly sustainable restaurant. “We know the provenance of all our ingredients and we are very proud of the work we do with the producers,” he explains.

“Together, we have built a strong network where we share knowledge about their processes. Being able to share this information with our customers is important.” Olvera sends his staff across Mexico to learn about the ingredients used, so they can talk to guests with informed passion.

“Traceability is vital to us when making purchasing decisions,” continues Olvera. “Not only does it mean that we know ingredients’ origins and their quality, but it forces us to take a deeper look at suppliers’ structure. They reveal their carbon footprint, their Fair Trade principles and how they treat their employees.”

'Elotes con mayonesa de chicatana' from Pujol's new menu

To ensure the longevity of these hard-sought suppliers, Pujol also pays for its ingredients in advance, often taking whole annual crops from select producers. Growers of heritage crops associated with a particular region of Mexico are prioritised: carrots and brassicas in Valle de Bravo, figs in Morelos and strawberries in Tlaxcala.

Paying in advance pays forward – it allows both parties to maintain quality and plan for the future. For Olvera, it forms part of what he calls a ‘circular economy’. “It all starts with nourishing the soil to produce first-quality ingredients,” he says. “In our kitchen garden at Pujol and with the suppliers we use, we create a circular economy, based on designing-out waste and pollution. Our organic waste goes back to the farmers, where they make compost to grow our ingredients for the next season.”

The view into the restaurant from Pujol's kitchen garden

Sustainability of its people has been another focus for Pujol in recent months. All staff received a full salary while the restaurant was closed, and it also provided grocery vouchers to compensate for the lack of gratuities. It all contributed to the admirable accolade of B Corporation Certification for the business, which ostensibly defines the restaurant as a force for good; one that balances profit with purpose.

“Over the last 12 months, we have demonstrated our responsible practices within the business and made clear internal statutes," says Olvera. "To be certified as a B Corporation gives us huge pride. It shows everyone that Pujol is considered a business with a positive impact on the preservation of culture right now and going forward.

"Our aim is not to become the best restaurant in the world, but to be the best restaurant for the world,” he concludes.

Images courtesy of Maureen Evans

Discover the full list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, on the website, and stay tuned for more interviews with this year’s award winners. Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube for the latest news, features and videos.