Feb 28, 2008

Adding Mexico to Mother’s Day

Adding Mexico to Mother’s Day

by Tim Pawsey

Although it seems that Mother’s Day offers yet one more excuse to further the fortunes of Hallmark cards, the springtime holiday has its roots in many cultures. In Mexico, Dias de las Madres has particular significance, as Mexicans honour the mother’s role in all walks of life, from the nurturing of Mother nature to the important role played by women in traditional Mexican cuisine.

A trio of chefs is currently visiting Vancouver to participate in A Taste of Mexico, that introduces Vancouverites to more authentic styles of Mexican cuisines than often found in American-influenced dining.

Leading a week of special tastings, cooking demonstrations and theme menus are three of Mexico’s food luminaries: Margarita Salinas, Mary Celis and Abdiel Cervantes. Salinas and Celis are senior instructors at Mexico City’s Esdai Hospitality Management School. Cervantes is the culinary director of Centro Culinario Ambrosia.

Margarita Salinas is a senior instructor at Mexico City’s Esdai Hospitality Management School, a college exclusively for women.

The three—all of whom are working hard to reintegrate traditional Mexican cuisine into their curricula—have been invited here by Vancouver chef Manuel Otero, with the support of the Consulate General of Mexico.

Both insitutions actively incorporate indigenous ingredients and recipes in their formal programs, while outside of Esdai (a college exclusively for women), Salinas and Celis are extremely active in improving the lot of indigenous women in the restaurant industry, who are highly respected for their culinary gifts and lore. Every Mexican restaurant of stature has at least one mayore in its employ, in whose hands lie the secrets of true Mexican cuisine, says Margarita Salinas.

The challenge for any chef is to source good igredients. At the Mexico City’s San Juan Market, row upon row of produce, fish and meat stores add up to the dynamo that supplies much of the city’s food needs. At working fishmongers and butchers, meats and fish are prepared as fresh supplies arrive throughout the day. Fish of every kind lies gleaming in neat piles; and chickens have that natural yellow colour, a harbinger of taste that you just won’t find in broiler-processed birds that show up on Canadian supermarket shelves.

Some more portable regional ingredients made their way to Vancouver with the chefs, who this week offer a special menu of Mexican specialties at Indigo Bistro (Hotel Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, 604-331-1000). Diners can enjoy fish Chilpachole, shrimp in chipotle sauce (with rice, zucchini and squash), Veracruz style filet of fish, pollo verde with corn bread and vegetables and mango mousse with red fruit coulis, and guava filled with cream caramel cajeta salsa. It could be the perfect place to celebrate Mother’s Day with a dash of Mexican flair.

In addition, the visitors have been busy imparting secrets of true Mexican cuisine to students at Dubrulle Culinary Institute. Other participants in A Taste of Mexico include The Fish House in Stanley Park (where chef Karen Barnaby offers swordfish in a chile guajillo sauce) and CinCin, where chef Romy Prasad will spice things up with specially imported ingredients. However, don’t be put off by suggestions of palate-searing spice. In traditional cuisine the spicing is more deep than fiery and the flavours often quite subtle.

With good food, of course, goes wine. While Mexico’s wine industry is small its winemakers and viticulturalists are beginning to be noticed internationally for well-made wines from the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, just south and east of Tijuana.

The Baja wines from L.A. Cetto (available in B.C. specialty stores) add up to good buys for budget wine buyers with a keen nose for a bargain. Keep an eye open for L.A. Cetto Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which represent excellent value.

Canadians who take their supplies of fresh food and water for granted could learn plenty from their southern neighbours, whose workers bless the land before and after working it. But then, perhaps that should come as no surprise from a land whose indigenous people honour Coatlicue, the Aztec goddess of the Earth and mother of the gods. 


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