In my previous article, I introduced the Culinary Institute of America, an age-old institution based in the USA and dedicated to giving the highest standard of culinary education. Last time we touched upon some of the legendary alumni that have graduated from the hallowed halls of the CIA. However it is hard to truly impart the calibre of the chefs we’re talking about in just a few paragraphs, so here we are!
In this mini-series of articles, I will go over some of the most talented and inspired chefs to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America and what they went onto do with their prestigious education. Starting from the culinary genius of Mexico: Enrique Olvera.
Enrique Olvera was born in Mexico City 1976, where he learned the very roots of his career in Mexican cuisine. Quickly realizing that he would like to turn his love of cooking into a full time career, Olvera took his talent to the USA, to enroll in the prestigious culinary academy CIA. Enrique Olvera immersed himself in the culinary techniques and styles of the CIA. He learned the refined techniques of the European Haute kitchen. The style of Haute, originating in France, dictates the creation of high quality, meticulous food prepared to the highest standards of luxury. At the time of Olvera’s life as a student (in the 1990’s) haute cuisine made up the backbone of CIA’s curriculum, and the refined techniques were considered the high end of the culinary world. Enrique Olvera would graduate from CIA with an associate degree in 1997 and later a bachelors degree in 1999.
Now, this is where Enrique Olvera’s story goes from mildly interesting to legendary. As most of you would know (or at least suspect) The ordinary career path for culinary professionals is to attend a culinary school and later go on to do a few years of training in a lower position before attempting to do a higher position or open a restaurant. Enrique Olvera is not an ordinary culinary professional. Upon graduating from CIA, and briefly working in a Chicago-based restaurant, Enrique Olvera would move back to Mexico City and open his first restaurant: Pujol.
The name “Pujol” was a tip of the hat to his childhood nickname “pozole”, this symbolic reference to his Mexican roots would later become the found principle of the restaurant itself. At first, Pujol relied heavily on Olvera’s teachings of Haute from CIA. Rather than break any new ground, Enrique Olvera was simply focussed on keeping his restaurant afloat. And it worked! Haute was a huge hit in Mexico city, as the country had been relatively untouched by the more traditional culinary scene; many were eager to sample Olvera’s culinary prowess. By 2004 the restaurant was a huge success and Olvera had an epiphany: instead of mimicking his, now mastered, techniques of European Haute cuisine, why not let his own culture shine through? And it is with this philosophy that magic was made!
As esteemed Catalan chef Ferran Adrià would go on to say: “There was Mexican food before Enrique Olvera, and Mexican food after Enrique Olvera.”. This statement wasn’t hyperbole. Pujol’s success would go on to be immense. Olvera used a blend of his tried and tested techniques of Haute cuisine along with a twist of his Mexican roots that the culinary world had never seen before. Re-inventing traditional recipes with his own ingenious flare, Enrique would describe his cuisine as: “ not nostalgic, it’s a little bit loud, a little bit of a mess, and very Mexican. “. He would then go on to move his style to the USA by opening Cosme, a similarly themed restaurant in New York City.
Today, Pujol is ranked number 12 on the 2019 Saint Pellegrino 50 best restaurants of the world list, Cosme is ranked 23rd (the highest ranking of any US restaurant on the list). His comrades in the Latin American culinary scene also recognised his achievements by voting Enrique Olvera the winner of The Chef’s Choice award by St Pellegrino.
Despite his numerous well-deserved accolades, Olvera has remained humble and has continued to run his kitchen as a democratice amalgamation of skill sets. While he sees the traditional restaurant kitchen as “almost like a monarchy, where there’s this king that everybody needs to listen to,” – Pujol is run in the way that every individual has their own say and contribution in it’s upkeep.
Due to his unconventional rise to stardom, Enrique Olvera generally favours work ethic and passion over experience and education when hiring for his team. His vision in the kitchen is for himself and his chefs to learn from each other and feel” the security of knowing that there’s not just one way of doing things,”. It’s this environment of mixed viewpoints, cultures and styles that has allowed Pujol to become the innovative hub of creation that it currently is.
While Enrique Olvera made a stark beeline away from his traditional Haute teachings from CIA, he still credits the school as being the beginning of his (and his colleagues’) success, going on to say
“ Being an entrepreneur is an integral part of becoming a chef. The business part of a restaurant is inseparable from your dreams of cooking, and the two must align. And having a degree from the CIA opens many doors for you, not only in the U.S., but everywhere around the world.”
As a show of gratitude, Pujol currently serves as an internship site for CIA students, in order to pass onto them the same lessons that allowed him to graduate from CIA into immediate, legendary success!
Pretty great story right? Well, it could be yours too! Enrique Olvera is just another of the many proud graduates of CIA, and their doors will continue to be open. So if you want to learn the world-class techniques that will allow you to spread your own cultural cuisine across the world, why not partake in a CIA Prochef course? Simply email us at [email protected] and we’ll take care of the rest!
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