Cui­sine Fo­cus: Mex­i­can

Caterer Middle East - - Contents -

Mex­i­can chefs from across the re­gion give us their take on the cui­sine and talk about the lat­est trends.

Whether it’s served in tra­di­tional street food style, or in more up­mar­ket set­tings, Mex­i­can cui­sine in the re­gion has never been so spicy. Caterer Mid­dle East spoke with five chefs for their take on it.

How pop­u­lar is Mex­i­can cui­sine in the re­gion?

Maria Gal­le­gos, Mex­i­can chef, El Som­brero: I think it is pop­u­lar and has re­ally grown over the last 10 years. There is a very strong Mex­i­can and Latin in­flu­ence in the UAE, but I want to show guests there is more than just bur­ri­tos.

Lara Said, chef, La Carnita: We feel that the pop­u­lar­ity and de­mand for Mex­i­can cui­sine is in­creas­ing rapidly, es­pe­cially as peo­ple re­alise there is a lot more to it than fa­ji­tas and re-fried beans. It ap­peals to peo­ple’s taste buds, thanks to its vi­brancy, flavour com­bi­na­tions and great aes­thet­ics.

Juan Flores, ex­ec­u­tive chef, Loca: Mex­i­can cui­sine has be­come very pop­u­lar in the last three years. We have been open for nine years in Dubai and the craze of Mex­i­can has re­ally sprouted ev­ery­where. From fast ca­sual to fine din­ing. It’s cur­rently one of the pop­u­lar UAE food trend.

Rene Ale­jan­dro Man­zanilla Vela, chef de cui­sine, Luchador: In my opin­ion, Mex­i­can cui­sine hasn’t yet been fully dis­cov­ered in this re­gion. The ma­jor­ity of our guests still con­fuse au­then­tic Mex­i­can cui­sine with one of the vari­a­tions known as TEXMEX. That be­ing said, I have found that the Latin cul­ture is one that is well ap­pre­ci­ated in the re­gion, and most peo­ple are also very will­ing to dis­cover new things.

Manuel An­to­nio, head chef, ZOCO: Mex­i­can food is pop­u­lar not just in the UAE but in all the world. Mex­i­can food was ap­pointed by the UN­ESCO as an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage of hu­man­ity, so al­most ev­ery­body no mat­ter where they are in the world has tried a Mex­i­can del­i­catessen.

How close to truly au­then­tic is your prepa­ra­tion of Mex­i­can cui­sine?

Gal­le­gos: I find it is al­ways im­por­tant to cater to your au­di­ence whilst pro­vid­ing an au­then­tic dish. I tend to put a lot more cumin here in the mari­nade than I would back home which I found is used a lot in the lo­cal cui­sine.

Said: The key in­gre­di­ents to our dishes are cer­tainly au­then­tic. We im­port many items di­rectly from Mex­ico and prove­nance is im­por­tant to us. That be­ing said, we cer­tainly put a de­cid­edly North Amer­i­can spin on the dishes, us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of flavours that brings our cus­tomers uniquely epic street food.

Flores: Both our head chefs (Dubai and Abu Dhabi) are from Mex­ico so things are pretty au­then­tic with us. We have man­aged to stay true to the Mex­i­can in­gre­di­ents as the food is so di­verse and has so many lay­ers it’s easy for the lo­cal mar­ket to find some­thing they like.

Vela: We def­i­nitely try to adapt our food and tastes to the lo­cal au­di­ence by tweak­ing some of our recipes, which also al­lows us to be a bit cre­ative. Our prepa­ra­tions are all 100% au­then­tic. That isn’t the same as be­ing tra­di­tional, but we pre­serve most of the cook­ing tech­niques and in­gre­di­ents to ex­e­cute our recipes.

An­to­nio: We have tra­di­tional recipes, we fol­low the lines of our fam­ily kitchen, we share the same food as you can find in my grand­mother’s house. Most of our food fol­lows our an­ces­tors’ her­itage, such as the fried beans, em­panadas, ta­cos do­ra­dos, tor­tas, etc. We have some fu­sion items that I learnt all around the world be­fore I ar­rived here in Dubai like the ce­viche, oc­to­pus and sea bass, that in­cludes ba­sic prepa­ra­tion from Mex­i­can cui­sine and some Span­ish, Ital­ian, or Latin Amer­i­can in­flu­ence.

What would you say are your big­gest chal­lenges?

Gal­le­gos: To change the minds of peo­ple about the con­cept of Mex­i­can cui­sine. To pro­vide new dishes for peo­ple to try the real Tex Mex with real Mex­i­can flavour to trans­port peo­ple to feel like they are in Mex­ico and eat­ing a home cooked meal.

Said: With­out a doubt, the big­gest chal­lenge in the kitchen is find­ing that sweet spot be­tween de­liv­er­ing the best qual­ity to the cus­tomer, whilst re­main­ing ap­proach­able to our

cus­tomers. We want to be seen as an ex­cep­tional food venue that is ac­ces­si­ble to the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple.

Flores: Stay­ing rel­e­vant with so much com­pe­ti­tion in our food sec­tor and to al­ter peo­ple's pre­con­cep­tions of Mex­i­can food — that Mex­i­can food can be fresh, light and has so many vari­a­tions on flavours. But for­tu­nately for us we have a very loyal fol­low­ing, strong fan-base, prime lo­ca­tions, and we have a good price point which al­ways helps.

Vela: Life is full of chal­lenges, none of them too big or too small. Some­times the dis­tance is hard, be­ing far away from fam­ily and the cul­ture that

I’m used to, but be­ing able to cook de­li­cious and au­then­tic Mex­i­can cui­sine at Luchador is def­i­nitely a plus.

An­to­nio: I think it’s all about be­ing the best Mex­i­can restau­rant in the UAE be­cause there is a lot of Mex­i­can and Latin res­tau­rants now and al­most all of them are do­ing the same, try­ing to look fine din­ing, fol­low­ing new ten­den­cies and don't re­spect the essence of our gas­tro­nom­i­cal cul­ture. I like to think we are serv­ing our fam­ily and I want our cus­tomers to feel that, the warmth of their fam­ily house with the meal that my mother, fa­ther or grand­mother would cook for me.

What is the lat­est trend in Mex­i­can cui­sine?

Gal­le­gos: To go back to the Mex­i­can roots, by mak­ing His­panic food with a Mex­i­can twist. To plate food in a modern and con­tem­po­rary way with a lot of in­sect dishes, such as ant eggs.

Said: Un­doubt­edly it’s the adap­ta­tion of Mex­i­can cui­sine in street food con­cepts. La Carnita started out as a pop-up and to­gether with food trucks, they have been re­spon­si­ble for Mex­i­can cui­sine reach­ing a larger num­ber of con­sumers. We take street food up a notch, cre­at­ing a unique din­ing en­vi­ron­ment and de­liv­er­ing our brand of modern Mex­i­can food with a lit­tle swag­ger and a smile.

Flores: The global trend for 2018 was ve­g­an­ism and in Mex­i­can cui­sine it’s easy to stay true and of­fer ve­gan and vege­tar­ian food, since so many items are plant based.

Vela: Mex­i­can cui­sine is well known for its con­trast. In my opin­ion, the lat­est gas­tro­nomic rev­o­lu­tion in Mex­ico is the sig­na­ture cui­sine, where you are able to play with your back­grounds and with the in­gredi- ents — ei­ther lo­cal or im­ported — to en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence of the guest.

An­to­nio: Now they are go­ing back in time, a lot of re­gional cuisines are get­ting pop­u­lar. They have started to use our an­ces­tors’ way, they cook with wood in a mud ves­sel, use wild in­gre­di­ents that modern peo­ple have al­ready for­got, and some of them mix it with a range of new tech­niques. ©

Loca’s oys­ter and mush­room que­sadilla.

Corn on the cob at La Carnita

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