Visitors to Mexico City in the past decade may assume that the city has a cooking culture deeply rooted in a strong culinary heritage. But Ricardo Muñoz’s recovery of traditional Mexican cooking techniques and Enrique Olvera’s abstract adaptations of time-honored recipes are new revelations. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that top Mexican chefs refocused the gastronomic spotlight on indigenous cooking traditions and, by extension, on the traditional and ecological imperative of eating and sourcing locally.
A Hidden Food Source in Danger
Surprisingly, despite the city’s brick-and-mortar sprawl, more than half of Mexico City is green space. An important part of the urban food supply is actually grown within the city limits. Beyond the main canals of the famous Xochimilco—where, on weekends, wildly painted boats carry tourists around to the strains of marimba music and the clinking of ice-cold beers—lie the chinampas. A labyrinth of extremely fertile islands and lesser-transited canals, Mexico City’s Aztec-built chinampa canals are one of the most distinctive agricultural systems in the world. Today, without this green zone, the annual temperature in the city would rise by 35.6° Fahrenheit.
Maximo Bistrot—and with some of its most important producers in the chinampas, linking the two communities. The supplier works with five different families of chinampa farmers to grow organic produce they sell to Yolcan at fair-trade prices, providing the chinamperos with higher monthly income and access to the city’s high-end food market.
A Delicious Solution
Chef Eduardo Garcia, or Lalo as he is affectionately called, knows a little about agriculture. He grew up in a family of migrant workers who followed the annual growing season in the United States, and he is now one of Mexico City’s rising culinary stars. Garcia buys almost exclusively from sustainable farmers and fishermen—in particular, from Yolcan.
“The difference between what [Yolcan] is growing and the produce grown in agrochemicals is day and night,” he tells me one morning in his flagship restaurant, Maximo Bistrot. “In texture, in taste: Take, for example, radishes. Eat a conventional radish and it tastes like nothing; eat one of Yolcan’s and it will make your eyes water, it’s so spicy.”
Every chef dreams of having his own garden, Garcia tells me, but the pressures of running a restaurant make it impossible for chefs to spend their days out on the farm picking vegetables. That’s why trusted suppliers and intermediaries are so important. The chinamperos need to trust that suppliers like Yolcan will secure a reliable market for their product, and in turn, restaurants have to trust that what they are purchasing is produced sustainably and that farmers are receiving a fair price for their labor. Most importantly, everything has to taste good.
© 2017 AFAR Media