Enrique Olvera is a name that has become known as synonymous with Mexican Cuisine the associations that come with Mexican food. He is legendary among the culinary community as the name that elevated Mexican Cuisine to the fine dining spectrum. What makes Olvera unique is the fact that he does not focus on molecular gastronomy, or fancy over the top plating techniques. Instead, Olvera has taken Mexican food back to its roots, utilizing indigineous ingredients to produce the most authentic Mexican food, with a fine dining flair. Let’s take a look at Olvera’s beginnings as a chef and explore how he has become a revolutionary in Mexican Cuisine.
Chef Enrique Olvera was born in Mexico City in Colonia del Valle and grew up in Querétaro, just northwest of Mexico City. Food was always a central part of Olvera’s childhood and he remembers it as being a celebration, reward, and something to look forward to. Olvera started cooking in high school in order to impress a girl. Doing this, he fell in love, not only with her, but with cooking. This “girl” is now his wife Allegra. Inspired by the famed New York based chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud, Olvera moved to New York. He studied at the renowned Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he completed both an associates and bachelors degree, graduating with honors. This is where Olvera perfected the European techniques of fine dining and became a self proclaimed “machine of cooking”. His studies in New York, reassured him that he was on the right path and that cooking was his passion. Soon after graduating, Olvera returned to Mexico and opened his first restaurant Pujol in the year 2000.
Not everything was smooth sailing in Olvera’s culinary career. Upon launching his first restaurant Pujol, it was quickly at the verge of shutting down. His meticulous fine dining approach did not appeal to the public. Olvera had become captivated by the thought that as a chef there were certain rules and techniques that he had to abide by, in order to be an amazing chef and to have a successful restaurant. On Netflix’s Chef’s Table Olvera said “I was too obsessed with trying to produce really high-quality food, and I forgot about having fun”. This realization made Olvera rethink his approach to cooking, and in 2004 he started to break out with a new direction in his cuisine centered around his Mexican roots and a focus on highlighting traditional techniques and local ingredients. His new, more relaxed and fun approach to food, made his employees happier, and in turn started to bring the customers through the doors of Pujol. He realized that instead of pretending to be someone he was not, it was better to focus on bettering what he knew best, Mexican food and the its cuisine.
But how specifically did he achieve this? Olvera started breaking down the Mexican food, i.e. traditional dishes, step by step, to understand what flavours, ingredients and textures make the dishes so great. He understood that to create delicious dishes, he must utilize great quality produce. What better way to do this, than by sourcing his ingredients locally, from producers who have been in the industry for generations? For example, Olvera knew that corn is at the heart and soul of Mexican food, but not the corn you and I picture. There are in fact hundreds of varieties of corn species, but due to the agricultural industry and the spread of domesticated corn, known as Maize or Indian Corn, many indigenous corn species are at the brink of extinction. Olvera partners with local farmers who practice a more traditional way of agriculture known as Milpa, which focuses on a variety of plants coexisting together and helping each other grow, yielding better produce and preserving variety.
One of Olvera’s most well known dishes is Mole Madre, Mole Nuevo. A Mole is a traditional Mexican marinade like sauce, containing a multitude of spices, peppers, fruit and nuts. What makes Olvera’s Mole dish so unique, is its simplicity, yet complexity. The dish features a central ring of young mole, surrounded by a darker circle of 1000 + day aged Mole, served with fresh tortillas. This is an incredibly brave dish, as it features “just” a sauce; if the flavours are not right, there is nowhere to hide. This is the heart of Olvera’s dishes, as he constantly strives to rediscover authenticity, changing his menu and finding new ways to highlight the favourite dishes of Mexican Cuisine.
“I want Mexican food to keep moving , I understand that we have beautiful traditions. I feel very proud of those traditions, but I want to keep on building new traditions for the next generations” Olvera told CNN.
Olvera’s gamble was successful, as Pujol is now ranked 12th on the World’s Best Restaurants List. His innovative tasting menu highlights indigenous Mexican ingredients and proves that both traditional techniques and ingredients have a place in the fine dining culinary scene. According to Olvera: “Pujol is how I picture Mexico City, and how I want people to experience Mexico”. Olvera took his food empire to New York, where he founded Cosme, in 2014, which was immediately named the best new restaurant of the year, by the New York Times. Currently, Olvera has expanded to owning 15 internationally renowned restaurants; and has starred on Netflix’s Chef’s Table and as a guest judge on Final Table. In addition, he has written and released 3 cookbooks, celebrating Mexican cuisine.
Before Enrique Olvera, Mexican cuisine was often known as cheap street food, but Olvera found a way to break this stereotype, and transformed traditional dishes and street food to a fine dining level. By doing this, Olvera managed to save his cultural heritage and elevate the standard of cooking in Mexico to become known worldwide as more than just street tacos and margaritas.
Now that you have heard the incredible story of how Enrique Olvera established his Mexican food empire, you can follow in his footsteps! As a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Olvera learned his skills and techniques in New York, and so can you, but from the comfort of your own home. If you would like to learn more, reach out to us at [email protected] to start your culinary journey.
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