Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Colonial Gem not Culinary Mecca

On a food chat group that I check from time to time, one person wrote:

Mexico has an excellent group of innovative chefs who are developing a modern cuisine alongside their traditional fare, and I certainly haven't been disappointed by dishes using local products (including foie gras from Puebla) and their interpretations of old and new.

It was like a Whack on the Side of the Head. That is what is wrong with the restaurants in San Miguel. San Miguel de Allende is a Colonial Gem but it isn't a Cullinary Mecca. Mexican food isn't being explored and re-interpreted or updated at any of the restaurants here. Oh, when tourists come to town they think the restaurants are great. I think the restaurant food here is good but not great. And some of the best food is in some of the small little out of the way places like the little restaurant near us, ChaChaCha or the tamales that a couple of our Mexican neighbors sell. And none of the restaurants are presenting any of the regional cuisines of Mexico like the Yucatan, or VeraCruz, or Michocan, or Oaxaca just to name a few of the most famous.

Actually some of the best food I've had in San Miguel has been at private dinner parties. There are a few people we know who really love to cook and take the best local ingredients and whip up some really good menus. There are also a few caterers who are using some fresh approaches to traditional Mexican cooking.....which is a long way from the Tex-Mex food that most Mexican restaurants in the USA serve.

In Mexico City, and maybe other places in Mexico, the Mexican chefs are exploring the many cuisines of Mexico and re-interpreting them. I've cited this New York Times article by Mark Bittman before about restaurants in Mexico City. And just today Deb sent me this link to an article in the Ashland Daily Tidings about what is happening on the food scene in Mexico City. Susana Trilling, Diana Kennedy, and Patricia Quintana are tracking down the recipes from all the regions in Mexico and recording them. Then chefs like Patricia Quintana are re-interpreting them for contemporary tastes.

Senora Quintana strives to maintain the techniques of ancient Mexican cooking practices, she's willing to experiment with classic recipes, employing new methods that use less oil and include fresh indigenous herbs and vegetables. Such creative impulses make Quintana's recipes lighter and brighter while they remain true to their historical roots. "My style of cooking is bringing sophistication to traditional recipes and giving Mexican food the recognition and honor it deserves," Quintana has said. Her approach has yielded a prodigious collection of recipes: marinated pork with almonds and prunes, vanilla shrimp, pineapple and coconut tamales, squash blossom soup, grilled cactus with huitlacoche, scallions, and goat cheese.

This is what we are missing here in San Miguel de Allende. Food from other regions and bringing a new interpretation to the traditional recipes.


1st Mate said...

Hmmm, wonder if Quintana has written a recipe book. Some of those dishes sound pretty good.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking for tamales all over town. The tamale take out store on the ancha never seems to have any customers. Can you tell me where your neighbors who sell tamales are, and when they have them for sale?

Billie said...

1st mate, Patricia Quintana has several books out on Mexican cooking. Just google her name on Amazon.
Anon, Sometimes when a neighbor makes some tamales they give us some but there is a lady that sometimes, especially in the winter, who sells tamales on Refugio Norte between Orizaba and San Raphel Norte...just a door or so from the Barber shop. You never know when she will be selling them. If you ask her she will say on Friday but that doesn't mean that it will happen. You just have to be watching.