We went straight to the kitchen on Day 4 of my Mexican Master Class because star chef Rick Bayless was going to be lecturing to us later in the day. It was somewhat of a crazy day for me because I had accidentally drank a half a pot of espresso thinking it was coffee, and needless to say I was ALL over the place. It was lots of fun though because my partner Angela and I got to work with the adobo-spiced masa I had made the day before.
We pressed the delicate dough into tortillas, sprinkled one side with cheese and folded them in half to make little half moons. Although they look like empanadas, these are special enchiladas, enchiladas positana, that are deep-fried after they’re formed. YUM!
When we finished that project we made esquites, or little corn snacks. Corn, butter, minced onion and Serrano pepper, and epazote are steamed in little foil packets, also called en papillote in French. Chef Fernando made us laugh because he kept calling aluminum foil “metallic paper.”
After a tasting of everyone’s food, we headed upstairs to the auditorium to hear Rick Bayless lecture. I thought Bayless was incredibly interesting and he did a great job of speaking to us without a single note except a short outline of what he was going to talk about written on a whiteboard to keep us on track.
Mr. Bayless discussed the philosophy behind his food, which you can find at Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and Xoco—all located in Chicago. In short, we eat food not only for nourishment and deliciousness (the two primary reasons for eating), but also for connection to place, family, community, culture + history, memory and sentiment. Bayless tries to incorporate these journeys into his cuisine and restaurants in some way or another, whether or not the eater knows it or not. According to Bayless, “History is basically culture over a period of time,” and “food is the only expression of culture you consume.” I thought this was incredibly insightful, especially because, as Bayless notes, “food affects us more than a well-designed chair,” and it’s an art form we often take for granted.
Then he went into great detail about the differences between the Pre-Columbian and Spanish kitchens, the Mexican diet during these times, and the history leading up to Mexico’s independence in 1812, before discussing the five major regions of Mexico— Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Guadalajara, and the Yucatan—and the food that comes from them. “Mexican cuisine has never had an Escoffier,” Bayless noted during his lecture, commenting on the fact that Mexico’s cuisine is regional rather national, and that no one has attempted to streamline it in any real way as Escoffier did for French food.
Lastly, Bayless discussed the way his chefs prepare food in his restaurants: “We cook in Spanish with just enough English words for our customers to understand,” he shared. I thought this was a fabulous way for him to explain his cooking method, and it explains why so many people have come to know and love his food—he offers both something new and exciting (unfamiliar ingredients like goat and epazote) to his customers as well as something comfortable and familiar (traditional Mexican dishes like enchiladas and tacos). Bayless also suggested that home cooks and chefs alike “dig deeper to find recipes” that suit their needs instead of altering them. Now that’s something to think about.
One Year Ago: White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake