Me and my classmates have been learning how to cook meat ‘saignante', which literally means it has to still be bloody for months. We're learning how to differentiate between Pont Neuf and Anna potatoes -both of them are very different, yet they're both potatoes. Thus, when the administration employees went looking for volunteers to talk about habanero and pasilla chiles, and even black recado, I don't have to emphasize how much I wanted to help out, since surely I was not only going to learn, but I would have the chance to get to know and work hand in hand with some of the big ones from back home.
Two days of masterclasses during the afternoon, but we had to be there at the break of dawn in order to have everything ready just as if we were going to have a small service, for a tasting would take place, and we were expecting about a 100 people to attend, and yes, we only had a few hours to get ready. The rendez-vous was in no restaurant, but in a two-story gallery which had been very well prepared for us to work in the lower level, while upstairs everything had been set up as a television studio for the demonstration to take place. The city was just waking up; it was 7:30AM. Mexico was already sleeping; it was past midnight.
My role was to give a helping hand as much as I could. I was to peel carrots, score the duck breasts, and serve as a communicating liaison between the organizing French speakers, and the Spanish-speaking cooks. Up to there, no problem whatsoever. I had already learned so much, and the show hadn't even begun.
The first team began to work. The chef, a big name: Guillermo González Beristáin, and he was accompanied by his sous chefs. His restaurant: Pangea in Monterrey, right there by the Cerro de la Silla. The mission: A duck breast accompanied by a foie gras sauce and red mole, a pickled carrot purée, and a pickled red onion gelatin.
The clock was now striking three o'clock in the afternoon. We'd had lunch and taken a break. The class was about to begin. During that time, the second team arrived. The chef, even though unknown to me, I was very curious to hear to attend his class. His name: Ángel Vázquez. He would be cooking with his sous chef, who was also his wife. His restaurant: Intro, in Puebla, probably the most important Mexican city in Culinary history, I believe. The mission: A ceviche tostada made from dry shrimp, but I would not see their prep work, I would actually get to sit down in their class. How curious was I!
The people started to arrive and take their seats. We knew it would be broadcasted via Livestream… ¡I was so excited! Well, up until the moment when the lights, the microphones, the cameras, and the enormous amount of cables made me conscious that we were live and that it was available anywhere around the globe.
The class began sharply on time. Some of my teachers, as well as my classmates were in the audience. I was so proud that they could get to see just a bit of everything my Aztec land has to offer. The chef made his presentation, and then I participated in the plating of his delicacies. Between you and I, everything was sweating -even my earlobes- because I couldn't deny it, I was shaking, and before all those lamps and cameras, the only thing I could do was focus and act quickly, for this rookie apprentice was next to world-class professionals. In the end, everything turned out marvelously. The second presentation went more smoothly, and since I was without any stress whatsoever, I could enjoy not only the chef's teachings, but also a small bite of what he prepared, while I had the chance to say hello to all those familiar faces I found in the event.
On the second day we began again at dawn. Today, the trip would take us in a couple of breaths to the northeast part of the country, right there by the vineyards of the Guadalupe Valley in the city of Ensenada, in the State of Baja California, and then all the way down to the southeast to the place where there are no jokes, but ‘bombs'… yes, ‘bomb' means joke in Yucatán. I got to work with Diego Hernández Baquedano. I had recently watched a documentary about him not long ago, even though I wasn't familiar with his cuisine. His restaurant, Corazón de Tierra in Ensenada, was already in my ‘go-to' list and hope I get the chance to go eat there, soon. Diego, who also went with his sous chef, presented a tamal, but this had nothing to do with anything I had tasted before. I understand, however, this is one of the classic preparations in his restaurant, even though some adjustments had to be done due to ingredient constraint. They called it a Celery Strained Tamal with duck and red mole. The tasting was served in a very modern way; in a verrine. It was so good. How innocent had I been, for I thought I wasn't going to discover much… it was such a great surprise to see my country's gastronomy have so many new proposals.
Last, but definitely not least, Roberto Solís entered the scene. He brought us a black recado taco. When I read the program I thought it was to die for, and made no mistake. It was awesome! He came from the very opposite edge of the country; from the southeast peninsula. His restaurant: Néctar. Honestly, I had never heard about him or his restaurant, but in my defense, I haven't been to the beautiful Mérida in over 20 years. I think it's time to go and discover what people are doing there.
The event passed by so fast, but I felt as if a truck had run me over. I had worked between 18 and 20 hours between both days. I was so tired, but so happy, and no one could take that away from me. On the weekend and more relaxed, we went with some friends to taste the tacos prepared by the chefs in the food trucks installed at the very popular parc of La Villete. The best, apart from the revisited indigenous delicacies, was to have the chance to talk with them with no formality whatsoever and even share a beer in the midst of the parisian summer. So much was there to learn from them, so proud was I to share with my friends from all over the world my country's richness. I'm still grateful for it, and to keep on discovering this universe, that even though I know it isn't endless, now, I feel it is.