Mexican celebrity chefs are showing up with greater frequency in the media, on various cooking shows and as celebrity judges: Susie Torres of NYC’s Sueños and Aaron Sanchez, (Aaron is son of legendary Mexican cooking authority Zarela Martinez and recent runner-up in Chopped All-Stars, as well as a executive chef/owner of Centrico) have both competed on Food Network’s reknowned Iron Chef America. Marcela Valladolid’s (#5 on SF Weekly’s list of The 8 sexiest women on TV’s cooking shows) show on Food Network, Mexican Made Easy premiered in January of last year; her new season kicks off April 30th, guest starring Desperate Housewives‘ Eva Longoria, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. Richard Sandoval is a semi-finalist for this year’s James Beard Awards, often called the Oscar of the culinary world, the winners will be announced on May 9th. (Placido Domingois is Sandoval’s business partner in the group of Richard Sandoval International Restaurants, which include Zenga, Pampano in NYC and locally, Maya SF).Other’s are baring their Mexican roots with new ventures or menus: San Francisco’s own Traci des Jardins, better known for her French-influenced California cooking style (Jardiniere) opened Mijitas Cocina , which she describes as “a cocina Mexicana with a Bay Area Flavor”.
What is perhaps more significant, but less reported, is that UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) awarded Mexico its first gastronomy recognition in December of 2010, the first year any national cuisine has been placed on the World Heritage List, alongside the Taj Majal and the Summer Palace in Beijing.
“Mexican food is about flavors, taste, tradition and history. I treasure this food and the memories of my grandmothers’ good cooking that were passed down from her mother and the generations of family before them. I was thrilled to hear about the UNESCO cultural heritage designation for Mexican Gastronomy and applaud the efforts put into recognizing the importance of food as a part of Mexico’s culture and a link to the past” – Traci Des Jardins, chef/owner of Mijita Cocina Mexicana in San Francisco, California
“The chilies, spices and local ingredients that define Mexican cuisine are as vibrant and varied as the people of Mexico,” says Chef Sandoval. ”From the age-old recipes of Mexico’s indigenous groups, to preparations inspired by the conquistadores, the cuisine has evolved with the country and its citizens – you can literally taste Mexico’s heritage in its cooking [author’s note- this only makes the advent of genetically modified chiles.. See Wimpier chiles detract from authentic flavor….. more galling.] In fact, the constantly evolving flavor of Mexican cuisine inspired my culinary mantra, ‘old ways, new hands.’ As markets grow and kitchens become global, I aspire to uncover the potential of Mexican cuisine by applying modern culinary techniques and incorporating unexpected ingredients. I’m thrilled that UNESCO recognizes the culture that’s reflected in Mexican cuisine and that we can celebrate this incredible culinary tradition together.”
While a burgeoning Hispanic population has resulted in a taqueria on every corner, as noted in this column and by Mexican foodies everywhere, “ubiquity does not always translate to auténtico”.
“Some of the foods I see served on Cinco de Mayo aren’t even authentic Mexican dishes,” says Sánchez. “That’s why I’m partnering with CaciqueUSA®. With my recipes and the fresh, authentic ingredients Cacique® offers, we can bring auténtico back…. Sánchez’ Cinco de Mayo menu features the versatility of the queso fresco as the central ingredient in every course from botanas (appetizers) to dessert. Queso fresco, which means “fresh cheese,” is a staple on kitchen tables across Mexico. Its fresh milk flavor and crumbly texture uniquely balances hearty, sometimes spicy Mexican dishes. The brand’s variety of queso frescos, which include Queso Fresco and Queso Panela, brings out the auténtico flavor and texture to Sánchez’ culinary creations. Getting these auténtico gourmet recipes is not the only reason for visiting and liking Cacique® USA’s Facebook page. From Apr. 13 to Aug. 31, 2011, the company is conducting a sweepstakes that will allow one lucky Facebook friend to have Sánchez “crash and cook” at the winner’s very own kitchen! All that visitors have to do is visit www.facebook.com/caciquebrand and like the Cacique® Brand page. If the page reaches 5,000 “likes” by Cinco de Mayo, the company will send Sánchez to the grand prize winner’s home.