Letter from the Editor: Culinary Artisans in New York and Mexico City Vol: 3
Culinary artisans are so-called for their devotion to crafting time-honored dishes and traditional ingredients. The three New York restaurants below are home to dedicated "artisan" chefs whose cuisine stood out during our search for the 2006 New York Rising Stars.
In New York City, Chef Tony Liu of August has the ability to take a single ingredient and make its best qualities shine. In a dish named after the Catalonian festival La Calcotada, calçots (spring onions) are grilled to perfection and topped with a nutty romesco sauce. Small summer beets, their flavor livened by little more than orange zest, literally explode in your mouth. This straightforward, unadulterated style of execution requires confidence in oneself and one’s ingredients.
At Falai, Chef Iacopo Falai’s artful, meticulous crafting of traditional Florentine dishes elevates the cuisine to new heights. A pastry chef by training, Falai brings exactness and attention to detail to his savory plates. Spinach and ricotta gnudi topped with milk foam and parmigiano are light and elegant. Rich cocoa pappardelle is topped with a hearty venison ragu, a clever presentation featured in On the Plate. Besides the great aesthetic and vibrant flavors, Falai is notable for his devotion to making products in house, like his fantastic black cabbage bread.
Also faithful to the Italian tradition is ‘Inoteca, the cozy wine bar best known for its paninis. Chef Eric Kleinman’s small plates are well-researched and authentic, but he is not shy about incorporating featured ingredients not normally found in Italy. A wagyu beef bollito panini is topped with piquant salsa verde, pickled onion and fresh horseradish. Ciabatta topped with smoked trout, charred ramps, a fried egg, artisan olive oil and Balinese sea salt is the epitome of hearty, rustic flavor.
Mexico City’s dining scene has undergone an exponential growth in the last ten years. In the city’s hip, ritzy Polanco district, a younger generation of chefs offers dining experiences that are progressive yet rooted in their rich and varied native cuisine. Innovation is on their minds, but the ultimate goal of each of these chefs is the intelligent crafting of tradition. Chef Enrique Olvera is the biggest risk taker of the bunch, combining international training with traditionalism at the sophisticated Pujol. His re-imagined classics are marked by careful composition and balanced flavors. Cocoa Crusted Venison with Three Bananas, and Squash Blossom Cappuccino with Coconut Foam, give new perspective on the traditional flavors of Mexico.
Chef Martha Ortiz Chapa of Águila y Sol translates history and tradition to the plate. Her focus is the artful interpretation of traditional cuisine; dishes are presented in a playful and evocative way, garnished with ornate chiles, gold and fresh flowers. A corn cake is rich and decadent, with a hint of chamomile that plays up the corn’s earthy sweetness.
At Izote, Chef Patricia Quintana’s dishes are well-composed and bursting with flavor. Like her, they are graceful, elegant, and utterly loyal to Mexican tradition. Chiles Rellenos is a particularily beautiful dish, in which citrus-marinated red snapper is surrounded by roasted poblano chiles and topped with pickled onions.
Unadulterated Mexican gastronomy is best exemplified by the cooking of Chef Carmen Titita of El Bajio. The Mexican culinary tradition is one of women and home cooking; this is the pervading philosophy at El Bajio, where home-style regional specialties are made as they have been for hundreds of years. You can taste the tradition in the bold, multi-faceted flavors of Titita’s traditional Veracruzano breakfasts. A tortilla topped with beans, zucchini flowers, egg, acuyo leaf and chorizo yields a different taste and texture in each bite. Drinks are especially notable—Champurrato is a hot mix of cacao, cinnamon, water and molasses with deep warming flavors.
Mexican gastronomy, be it progressive or home-style, is firmly rooted in the country’s deep history. And yet, in the U.S., it is often unfairly dismissed as a trinity of beans, rice and cheese. Mexico’s dining scene is just starting to receive much-deserved global attention; as it continues to do so, we look forward to learning more from these culinary artisans.