Last week I was lucky enough to get to speak at the International Mole Festival in Puebla, Mexico. Why Mexico? My interview with Mexico City food writer Lesley Téllez (copied below and originally posted here) explains a bit about my relationship with Mexico and its food. Also, be sure not to miss Lesley’s recap of the first day of the festival (look at the pictures and you’ll see why I had to go).
Q: When did you first start traveling to Mexico?
A: I don’t know, 30 years ago. But seriously, really seriously, it’s been five years. In the past five years it’s become a priority.
A: It should’ve been a priority all along. I saw the error of my ways. Look, you can’t go everywhere. It’s important for me to see as many things as I can see, globally. But my early loves were European and Asian cuisine, and I’d say I was first Eurocentric and then I spent a great deal of time in the late 90s/early 2000s traveling in Asia. I don’t have to apologize for this, but I mistakenly put Mexico not at the top of the list. But it’s worked out fine. It’s still here.
Q: What first captured your attention in Mexico in terms of the food?
A: It’s a really interesting question because the first couple of times I came here, I went to the Yucatán. Without being cruel, I would say that it ’s not — the way Yucatecan cuisine is presented to visitors is not the best. Yucatecan cuisine is spectacular in its soul, but it’s very hard to find that. Very hard to find it. Because Yucatecan cuisine is Mayan cuisine, and what’s sold in most restaurants in the Yucatán is not that. But I only learned that recently.
I think what really attracted me was street markets and street food in Mexico City. I have friends who’ve been kind enough to schlep me around and show me, probably starting eight or ten years ago.
And I have been nowhere. Let me say, I know more about Poblano food than about anything else, and I don’t know anything about a lot of them. So I’m totally a real beginner.
Q: Yeah, I was originally surprised to see your name on the list of speakers. I’d seen in some of your columns that you’d visited Mexico, but I didn’t know you had such an affinity that you’d actually come here to talk in Puebla.
A: Well. I’d go talk in Bhutan where I’ve never been, because an opportunity to talk to a big audience is an opportunity to talk to a big audience. You just get there early enough to not be an idiot about the food. And I have to say I’m not an idiot about Poblano food.
Q: You repeated yourself in your talk, when you mentioned innovation in Mexican food. You said twice that Mexican food does not need to be tinkered with. Why?
A: Because it’s really good. I mean that’s an easy answer. How are you going to make this food better? By adding soy sauce? By adding more cheese? By what? By turning it into pizza? If someone’s going to tell me I’m having a mole poblano pizza, that’s nice, but let’s not have that be a symbol of Puebla. What’s going to make it better? GMO corn and mass-produced masa is not going to make it better.