Culinary Artisans in New York and Mexico City
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.
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.
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
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.