|Acapulco bay, the "pearl of the Pacific"|
“They’re trying to bring back ‘the Pearl’,” quipped my friend B. skeptically. Poor Acapulco was once referred to as the “Pearl of the Pacific.” It’s now like a beauty contest winner who didn’t age well.
As the greedy “they” (the politico/business cartel) developed the hell out of the divine bayside paradise, Acapulco, once the most beautiful spot in Mexico, decayed. High rise towers block neighbor’s views both inward and out. Convenience stores scar nearly every corner. The development is “not just ugly, it’s stupid!” B. opined. Then the tourists stopped coming. First the narco violence, then the floods kept them away.
But tourism is the town’s cash cow, and local and federal governments are trying to do something to lure it back. One high rolling telecommunications tycoon has donated some pocket change in order to spruce up the old pearl.
What do you do after drug mafiosos sully your reputation for safety, floods leave your airport under six feet of water, and mudslides devastate your surrounding communities? As any Jewish mother would say..."Eat!"
Less than three weeks after the floods had subsided, the state of Guerrero held a food fair to bring some culture back to the former playground of the rich and famous.
|An expert from Michoacán|
The Foro Mundial de la Gastronomía Méxicana, (World Forum of Mexican Gastronomy) took place over four chow-filled days in a large, generic expo hall, the Expomundo Imperial. Chefs, cooks, students, and the food-loving press frolicked about, tasting, sniffing, exchanging culinary thoughts and generally celebrating the marvels that our country’s cooking has to offer.
The forum was loosely based on the paradigm laid out by Peru’s Mistura, the enormously popular food event held every year in Lima, which draws hundreds of thousands of hungry locals and visitors. We’re a little embarrassed that a country with less recourse can get something like that together well ahead of us--so it’s time to compete.
A series of lectures, round tables, and demonstrations took place while stands dedicated to feeding the crowds were staffed by extraordinary regional cooks. Star Mexican chefs were on hand. I spotted most of the reverable “Great Ladies of Mexican Cooking” : Alicia Gironella Di Angelis, Patricia Quintana, Mónica Patiño, Martha Chapa and Margarita Carrillo de Salinas circulated, and vying cuisine kings Ricardo Muñoz Zurita and Enrique Olvera attracted their adoring fans. Royal Brit foodie Tom Parker-Bowles lauded his passion for Mexican food.
|Alicia Gironella, owner of El Tajin in |
San Angel and godmother of Slow Food
in Mexico, reigns.
The event was divided into several didactic themes, each led by an expert. Cocina de ida y vuelta, was organized by local restauranteur Eduardo Wichtendahl Palazuelos. This lecture/demo tried valiantly to tie Mexico and its cuisine to the South Asian countries once served by the Nao fleets. Thai, Philippine and Malaysian chefs expounded and compared. But, other than the obvious “we gave them chilies, they gave us mangos”, the presentation was more academic than fruitful.
La Cocina Avanzada, coordinated by Enrique Olvera studied important trends in global culinary arts. Olvera, whose Mexico City restaurant Pujol seems to be on everyone’s must-do list, appeared to a SRO crowd. He walked his adoring fans through a visual tour of his most recent ten-course tasting menu. Olvera’s done much to bring Mexico to the attention of the gastro-world and its serious students – toques off to chef Enrique.
|Chef Olvera elaborates|
But the sleeper event, relegated to the half-mast last day, which saw many fewer visitors, appeared as more dessert than the main course it should have been. Margarita Salinas de Carrillo presented La Cocina Tradicional, giving us the soul and essence of the Mexican kitchen.
An affable chef and gastronome, Carillo is recognized for her work in promoting Mexican cuisine throughout the world. She has campaigned for the UNESCO proposal to designate Mexican Cuisine as ‘Intangible Patrimony of the World’. She is a notable cooking teacher, and has written about the regional cuisines of Oaxaca, Michoacán and Chihuahua amongst others. Her restaurant Don Emiliano in Baja California won umpteen awards, and her book ‘Tamales y Atoles Mexicanos’, was just published by Larousse. Currently she operates San Angel’s Turtux, one of the best traditional Mexican restaurants in the city.
In true Oprah style, Carillo presented and interviewed a group of indigenous ladies who cook. These, the true heroines, from whom our soulful cuisine emanates, are the ones without whom there would be neither chefs nor high-falutin’ Polanco eateries. Six cooks, all from far-flung pueblos and all renowned for preparing one or more dishes, told their stories, many heart-rending, of how and why they started to cook. Several spoke of how absent husbands necessitated ingenuity.
|Abigail Mendoza prepares|
'espuma de chocolate'
One cook, Serafina Clara Vega from Oaxaca, had tried selling fruits, then clothing, but didn’t find her niche until her mother suggested she start to make simple antojitos, whose recipes she already knew. While telling her rags-to-, well, comfort, story she, as well as several other women, broke into tears, as did the crowd. This was the essence of the history, tradition and passion that imbues Mexican cooking. It was the highlight of the event.
The Foro Mundial was a start. Our hope is that it will evolve into an event that, like Mistura, reaches the general public but doesn’t compromise the integrity of its participants. And we all hope to have as much “Fun in Acapulco” as Elvis once did.
|Margarita Carillo does Oprah|