When my editor returned from Mexico in July 2006, she spoke glowingly of Patricia Quintana, calling the culinary matriarch intelligent and graceful, “like a dancer.” Remarkable praise, given that the two had not met face-to-face. This was simply the impression made by the dishes of Izote, the Mexico City restaurant where Quintana has made a name for herself crafting her delicate, personal, Mexican cuisine d’auteur.
Three months later, Quintana spoke at the StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress – she gave a reserved presentation on pickling chilies, aimed towards chefs with minimal understanding of Mexican ingredients or techniques, which did little to convey the complexity of her oeuvre. Our next meeting revealed more: at a presentation by Parisian restaurateur and cookbook author Fatima Hal at Madrid Fusion, Quintana sat next to me, translating from French, adding anecdotes about the brik and warka she loved, matriarchal cuisines around the world, the comparable evolution of Mexican dough, and so on.
As she is in life, Quintana’s cuisine is worldly and utterly rooted in the Mexican tradition from which it came. The multi-lingual chef has cooked around the world, including time with Michel Guerárd in Madrid and the Troisgros Brothers in France, and is as versed in Nouvelle Cuisine as in the ancient techniques of the mocaljete and the comal, and the subtle differences between myriad indigenous chiles, whose flavors are inextricably linked to the traditions of regional Mexican cuisine.
Like her personal history, the food at Izote is a mixture of proletariat and privilege. Watching the workers on her family’s ranch make tortillas, beans, tamales, and cheese inspired a mixture of fascination and jealousy in Quintana, who wanted desperately to touch – wanted to learn to dry to corn in lye, grind it, and turn the paste into sweet-smelling tortillas with the help of a hot, dry comal. This early education in smells, tastes and techniques in one the richest agricultural regions of Mexico instilled in her a permanent devotion to the country’s culinary heritage. For nearly 40 years she has researched Mexican cuisine; her printed work is as prolific as her work in the kitchen, and as significant to the future of the genre.
Imagine Quintana as a subtle, quiet revolutionary, one member of a small group of chefs who are modernizing Mexican food as we know it, working against the adulterated influence of flat-flavored, cheese-doused beans and rice. She breaks the mold with dishes that are as traditional as they are vibrant, light, new, and exciting – the future of Mexican cuisine.
Crab Cocktail with Poblano Chile and Bitter Orange
Fresh Scallop Timbal, Ixtapa-Style
Fresh Corn Tamales
Hibiscus Mole with Lobster