Witness to a Culinary Coronation
For an evening I was an honorary Mexican at a mucho bueno culinary event--best to keep my mouth shut, Dora won't help me here. Mexico in Paris: the night was the semester final for the Mexican students at the Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres de l' académie de Versailles, a tres chic culinary school that demands of its chef-lings to perform the act of fusion with French culinary technique and philosophy with those of the students homeland for their grand finale. This night was the Dîner Gala Mexicain, staged and performed solely by the gang of budding Mexican culinarians at the Institut for their professors, judges, colleagues in the field, and the Mexican Ambassador to France. How did I merit an invitation? Don't you know me by now.
Note here that I am earnestly attempting to make this to have nothing to do with me--not everything is about me. Shocking I know. I got into the exclusive event by the grace of mis amigos mexicanos under the guise of "helper." As I have mentioned foreigners tend to build acquaintance with other foreigners, and with our shared interests (their being chefs and all) we've never been in lack of conversation. I was invited by G-Mo as a food photographer and, well, 'she's helping me.' Yes...free food! No, I did get there early, I photo-ed, I helped, I was lost in a see of Spanish, witnessed the chefs running around the kitchen like crazed boars on the verge of nervous breakdowns, told G-Mo to breath or he would pass out--I did make a desert stand out of black foam board and super glue (see photo farther down). I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of Top Chef. All in all, I watched (jealously?) talented chefs impress their professors (as well as the Mexican foreign ambassador) with truly amazing dishes. So I had a margarita and made friends with the violin players. Quel night!
Acto uno: l'Aperatif
For many of these dishes, sadly, I can not proffer an exact title, only my orally perceived description, and a visual for the wheat-y ones. For the cocktail starters, there were quite a few small cupped terrines, bites, and soups--finger foods. The ones that particularly stood out were (surprise) the seafood; miso-spoons of butter seared scallops and stuffed prawns. The theme for the evening, evidently, was Mexican--what could be more Mexican than a layered avocado, tomato, and cilantro creme fresh? Pureed black been soup, butter squash soup, polenta, cold gazpachos, and, of course, tortilla sheeeeeeps!!
Los Platos Principales
The main dishes were focussed around a cinnamon and tequila, with a winter flavor theme. All of the main players were present: fish, foul, land land beasts! There were six main dishes, (two of which I did not make a note of; a pulled pork and a chicken in a green mole sauce.) The first was salmon in a tequila sauce accompanied by a mango chutney (did somebody say mango? I would have been happy with just this dish.)
I followed the salmon with beef tongue in a cacahuete (peanut!) and cinnamon sauce--very tender, first time tasting beef tongue, spicy--but I am working on my "spice wimp" disease. Pibil is a Mexican dish similar to slow roasted pulled pork, but traditionally roasted in a banana leaf with strong acidic fruits--this one, Agneau, is lamb to infuse with frenchiness. Roule de poulet dans sauce de jamaique: Chicken in a Jamaica sauce, whatever Jamaica sauce is, it's pink. Desolee.
La piece de resistance: La dessert
Dessert is in perpetuum the high point of any exhibit. (you didn't know I took Latin did you.) And G-Mo is the pastry chef on board this ship. Yes pastry chef. Slight jealousy does indeed ensue. As the patisierre, he conceived and directed all of the recipes. As for me: this genre was paid with particular attention.
A banana and fruit rouge mousse, a spiced rice pudding wrapped in a chocolate sheet cake, creme filled beignets, chocolate cake with a smooth dark coco ganache shaped in the image of a Mayan pyramid, a pudding of (pistachio?) passion fruit macaroons, and the absolute treat: dark cacao and tequila truffles. The presence of the alcohol made the truffles quite, *squishy* but none the less delightful. It was rather amusing to watch as the delicacies flew off of the table to be greedily devoured by the crowd. As should be. The desert is after all, the reason for eating the meal in the first place is it not?
Now this event should have been slightly awkward, seeing as I really did not belong. However, it was not awkward, and it was not uncomfortable. They were not French you see. Aye! No I love the French, but sitting alone in the Empty reception hall before the guests arrived, evidently not Mexican (what gives me away?) i was greeted only with smiles. Though I did find myself questioning why, why when I have finally become comfortable with the French language to the point of full comprehension in conversation, do I find myself in a room with a language unbeknownst to me. Life. I'll just listen. But Spanish is a tres jolie langue, I must say, as I sit in the corner watching the pre-game scurryings of the chefs while listening to my pod-cast lesson for a language that is neither French nor Spanish, but that's another story. Mexican food is brilliant. Mexicans are brilliant. It pains me to think of the Mexican stereotype and trashy reception in the United States. I dreamed of French friends before arriving in Paris, but what a silly concept to even ponder, a friend is a friend, Mexico in Paris, school in little Tokyo? Not French you say? Welcome to the twenty first century.
If there's anything Tony praises more than his hate for Rachel Ray, it is his praise for Mexicans in the culinary field. I think of this when I hear of the prejudices still present in the culinary schools-- and then to see the talent of these students who hurdled it and are jumping into the hell that is the kitchen. Excellent. G-Mo is starting his chef internship at the Hilton on the Champs Elysees! If you're a guest and happen to receive a particularly nice meal, you now know why. Vive le Mexique!