Mexico was quite the happening place this past weekend — there was the Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival
, a little visit from the Pope, aftershocks from the recent earthquake, and the Ixtapa triathalon.
We were in Ixtapa as well, doing our own kind of endurance triathalon: eating, drinking and learning our way through the second annual Food & Wine Festival in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, which featured demos, tipples and tastes from some of the best Mexican chefs around, along with some featured international chefs.
Mexico City's Daniel Ovadia is a rising star chef in Mexico — he oversees a group of acclaimed restaurants, and the production of mezcal, tequila and Mexican wines.
At Paxia, where he is head chef and owner, Daniel’s cuisine focuses on native ingredients transformed by creative culinary techniques and recipes inspired by his travels around Mexico. Renowned for his special tasting menus based on themes, regions and Mexican traditions, Ovadia even uses historians to develop a curated experience for his diners.
At the Food & Wine Fest in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo he demonstarted his vintage-modern culinary philosophies and practices by suspending a chocolate mole in a martini glass and serving it alongside sugar-dusted chicken quesadillas. Yes indeed, dessert chicken. But the most interesting dish was one that utilized ancient Aztec cooking techniques — a supple and fragrant fish cooked in both banana leaves and in clay.
"Cooking in banana leaves is a technique that has been used in Mexico for over 600 years" explained Ovadia as he first roasted a banana leaf before placing a grouper filet inside and topping with layers of sliced onions, tigre tomatoes, epazote, cilantro, slices of serrano chiles and a pat of butter and folding the leaf to seal.
And then came the clay. "This is a technique that was used by the Aztecs" he explained as he mixed powdered clay with water to form a paste. "They used to hunt and raise dogs and roast or steam them packed in clay." Ovadia was using a special local clay, but says that you can use any clay that you use for facials. He spread the paste to completely cover the banana leaf package and then it placed in a hot oven for about 20 minutes until the clay hardens into a firm crust and the fish is cooked through.
To serve, Ovadia used a tiny hammer to crack open the crust and then sliced open the banana leaf to release the fragrant fish inside.