MFWF 2013 – Langham Melbourne Masterclass – Enrique Olvera

Enrique Olvera – New Wave Mexico


Enrique was quite a softly spoken man – who is nonetheless passionate about Mexican food. You’ve got to love a man who sticks up a photo of a Mexican spread clearly taken at the local Taco Bill (or something similar) – who says:  This is NOT Mexican food.

His restaurant in Mexico City, Pujol, aims not to produce modern food – but to present ancient food.  Rene Redzipi has acclaimed it as “one of the most interesting places to eat in the world right now”.  That’s pretty high praise.

Charred baby corn

Charred baby corn, chicatana and coffee mayonnaise

As Enrique opened his session, some gorgeous baby corn skewers were passed around.  They had been slathered in a smoky, coffee mayonnaise which was a lovely contrast to the firm sweetness of the corn.  He explained that this is a very traditional dish – which usually has ground chicatana ants as one of the ingredients.  Alas – customs wouldn’t let the ants through!

La Milpa - final

Building up La Milpa

One of the ancient Mexican agricultural concepts he spoke about was La Milpa – where you plant a staple crop such as corn, then plant beans and tomatoes around it, and then there might be a circuit of zucchini, and then chilli on the outside border to keep away the pests.  Enrique stated that this was not only an agricultural system, but also a way of eating and a philosophy.   He then demonstrated a dish inspired by La Milpa – where he built up the vegetables to the point where he made a beautiful salad.  Alas, no picture of the final version – but you can see from the pictures above how he started with some beautifully charred squash and tomato, and kept building the dish up with zucchini flowers, bean paste, deep fried chochoyatas (corn dough dumplings), and fried tomato skins.


Bean Tamal, charred red tomato sauce, salad

The second tasting dish we had was a bean tamal. Now, let me say up front – I’m not really a legume-y girl.  However, this tamal was actually very tasty – and I loved the addition of the corn masa in the centre of the black bean filling, which apparently is a pretty essential part of a tamal.  The corn masa is a corn dough – very similar to gnocchi in texture within this dish because it had effectively steamed within the tamal.  Some fried masa was also used in the Milpa dish to make the chochoyatas.

Overall, the Enrique Olvera session covered a lot of ground.  There was talk of ants and insects adding the crunch factor to a lot of Mexican food, and even using rotten bananas as components in dishes (I guess you had to be there)… I can’t say that it’s inspired me to hop on a plane to Mexico City and eat at Pujol – but maybe the fact that Rene likes it means that Enrique is a chef’s chef – someone who will be authentic and true to the original cuisine, even if it confronts people’s conceptions of what’s edible.

I can appreciate that our current Melbourne fascination with Mexican may not be altogether traditional or authentic, but we have thankfully moved a very long way from the “Taco Bill experience”.  Feel free to call me conservative – but there’s a part of me that’s OK with not going all the way if it means I don’t have to eat insects!