World renown Chef Rick Bayless has dedicated his life to promoting authentic Mexican cuisine, particularly by showcasing the food of different regions. The seven-time James Beard Foundation award winner is using his Disney Springs restaurant, Frontera Cocina, to do just that.
The restaurant is featuring a special menu that highlights the dishes in a region of Mexico. The menu changes every two to three months and this month, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula will be highlighted. Below is a quick Q&A with the chef about this new menu — as well as on Mexican cuisine in general.
“Once you eat the food of another people, you understand them in a more intimate way,” Bayless said.
Reporter’s note: This Q&A was edited for clarity and brevity.
What first piqued your interest about the Mexican cuisine?
It’s the same thing that you would say about falling in love with someone. Can you really specify exactly what those things are? I could make up an answer, but the real answer is I went to Mexico and I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with all the parts of it. Every part of it. I originally focused on cultural things, but then I went on to focus on food. How do you describe love?
What are some misconceptions people have about Mexican cuisine?
I think it would probably be easier to state that in the reverse: “What are the conceptions of Mexican food that are actually mirroring what people do in Mexico.” In the states, we have this thing we call Mexican food. We are convinced it’s Mexican food. At best it’s Mexican American food. Almost all of it was created in the United States, either by immigrants or for the most part, by people back in the ’60s that decided that they were going to make chains of Mexican restaurants. The exception of that are some places in Texas where you can still get the old Tex-Mex food, but those places are few and far between. Same thing happens in New Mexico, where you get the indigenous New Mexico cuisine.
Mexican cuisine is really different than all of that. The flavors are bold and more complex always. There is a certain amount of freshness that you find in Mexican cuisine that you don’t find very much in Mexican American cuisine. It’s way more varied, because people are eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s incredibly regional. It’s a fascinating thing to me that if I ask any of my foodie friends, “Do you know the culinary regions of France?” right away they can tell me. Italy, same thing, they can tell me. China, they can get most of that right. I say “What about Mexico?” They say “we didn’t even know there was regional cuisine.” This is our next door neighbor and we don’t know that the cuisine in Veracruz is incredibly different then the cuisine down south in Oaxaca or in the Yucatan Peninsula. When you taste the cuisines in those places, there are some underlying similarities that you will find, but mostly it’s almost like you’re in a different country when you eat each one of those cuisines.
Why do you think those misconceptions exist?
No. 1, we think we know what Mexican food is already. Most people aren’t even curious. They don’t even ask questions. We live in a country that has for probably a century and a half at least had institutional racism against (Mexico) and that’s not a good thing. I’m here to say that we need to set that aside and really look at this incredible cuisine, these incredible people that have not only developed this over many hundreds of years, but they’re continuing to innovate.
It’s a very interesting thing. We live in an era now of young chefs going off to study, to learn from other chefs and bring back to their home country and look at their native cuisine through new eyes. None of the chefs in Mexico will come to the United States, even though we have really good places that they can work and learn from. None of the chefs want to come to the United States. They’re looked down on. Everybody says “What there are fancy restaurants in Mexico?” They don’t want to deal with that.
Original Source: Orlando Sentinel
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