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Chef Azari Cuenca-Maitret of Mexico City: Interview for Sofrito Magazine, on site at the New York City Wine and Food Festival

Chef Azari Cuenca-Maitret of Mexico City: Interview for Sofrito Magazine, on site at the New York City Wine and Food Festival

Chef Azari Cuenca-Maitret of Mexico City: Interview for Sofrito Magazine, on site at the New York City Wine and Food Festival

 

Sofrito Magazine (SM): Is this your first time in New York City?
Chef Azari Cuenca-Maitret (ACM): No, I have visited [New York] before. [This is my] first time participating in the New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYC Wine and Food Festival).

SM: How would you characterize your experience participating in the NYC Wine and Food Festival?
ACM: First of all, the experience of participating in this type of festival is very important for gastronomical culture. It gives us (Mexico) the opportunity to let everyone know what we are creating, and the quality of our cuisine. [We maintain] consistently good flavors, as per gastronomical guidelines, and elevate taste and quality.

 

SM: When and why did you decide to become a chef?

 

ACM: Great question. I fell in love with food because of my grandfather’s love for food. He came to Mexico because he was hired under the pretext of helping to cultivate the vanilla bean, [but] it turned out he was there to help eradicate malaria. Eventually he was instrumental in bringing the first Zebu herd and became a rancher.

 

At thirteen I started working in a restaurant in the center of Mexico City. Then I moved to the Marquis Reforma Hotel with Chef Reichart Raoul—who has a Michelin star, and then on to the Four Seasons with Chef Fernand Gutierrez, followed by JW Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton Cancun. Then I flew to San Sebastian, Spain with Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena. For two years I worked with them. I then flew to Lyon, France and studied with Paul Bocuse. Then I returned home. I founded Grupo Litoral fourteen years ago and it took off.

SM: What is your culinary impact (you, as a chef, as well as the impact of Mexico City) on the world?
ACM: There are two very important things right now. Mexico is neither handsome nor rich but we are in fashion now as Mexico. We need to take advantage of that. We are in the forefront because of Mexico’s mescal, tequila, mole, and their ingredients. With humility we know that we are [one] of the top ten most important cities in the gastronomical world—without altering but respecting the flavors, and based only on fresh ingredients that belong to our city, our countryside, our land. We want to bring the real flavors from Mexico.
It’s like when you first tasted pizza and you loved it, but when you go to Italy you really taste and comprehend what pizza is.
SM: What do you think of other countries’ chefs bringing fusion to Mexican cuisine?

 

ACM: Fusion bothers me, because generally fusion creates confusion, and when you have confusion in the gastronomical world it is really messy. If you create fusion without a strong base you do not have pure gastronomy. You have to be very careful when creating fusion [with] gastronomical flavors, scents, and consistencies, above all making sure that the basics of Mexican cuisine are still there. You can modify the ingredients, and put in a little twist of your own, but keep the taste and purity. When [some] make tortillas, you taste one and there is nothing there, the flavor is not apparent—and that is because the person tries to change things and it doesn’t work. Then you have to do it all over again. This is the reason we came here: to present the consumer the real flavors of Mexico.

 

SM: We can see the passion, love, and dedication you have for the culinary world and your culture. With that in mind, we ask: What does family mean to you, especially during the holidays, and what do you like to cook and serve?
ACM: In Mexico, there is a tradition: You did not marry the most beautiful woman, but the one who was the best cook. There are very important holidays for us. Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos)—we are [one of] a handful of cultures that laugh at death—Christmas and New Year’s: the most important thing above all traditions is sitting down to dinner and sharing with loved ones. It’s our pride and joy; you can conquer anyone through food, if [you] teach them how to eat our food, drink our tequila, how to drink mescal. And those little things, those are the things we learn at our tables. I think that is the most beautiful thing we carry when we visit someone or entertain them. We establish camaraderie, and, for our holidays, food is very important.

 

Eating well is important, as well; you can eat very well in our country if you have a lot of money or not. However it is, our less fortunate people have a great palate. They know a good taco, gordita, and so forth, and when you know the distinction in flavors you can differentiate a good plate of beans and your taste buds are developed.

 

Our culture is based on our maternal development—it’s very matriarchal. There were no men cooking back then; it is only recently that men are in the kitchen, where our mothers were the greatest cooks [who taught] us how to cook, how to temper the fire, how to create that chemical reaction with the ingredients—give it the flavor, the voice, of our food, our “first taste of gastronomy” Our traditions are beautiful.

SM: Thank you so much for this interview! In closing, what did you create? What did you bring to this festival?
ACM: Thank you. In reality, we all worked on this together. There is a bit of flavor from each of us. Alejandro Ruiz brought a touch of mole, Daniel Tellez brought our chocolate mousse, and I brought the wonton dish. We worked together and executed our dishes very well, and we were able to marry all these flavors, creating wonderful flavors. We want to make sure that when you taste our food you can feel the love we bring to our dishes in every form. In Mexico we keep in touch with each other, we go out together. At times we go and eat at each other’s restaurants with friends. We have a great connection—in the full sense of the word.

Chef Azari Cuenca-Maitret of Mexico City: Interview for Sofrito Magazine, on site at the New York City Wine and Food Festival

 

Sofrito Magazine (SM): Is this your first time in New York City?
Chef Azari Cuenca-Maitret (ACM): No, I have visited [New York] before. [This is my] first time participating in the New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYC Wine and Food Festival).

SM: How would you characterize your experience participating in the NYC Wine and Food Festival?
ACM: First of all, the experience of participating in this type of festival is very important for gastronomical culture. It gives us (Mexico) the opportunity to let everyone know what we are creating, and the quality of our cuisine. [We maintain] consistently good flavors, as per gastronomical guidelines, and elevate taste and quality.

 

SM: When and why did you decide to become a chef?

 

ACM: Great question. I fell in love with food because of my grandfather’s love for food. He came to Mexico because he was hired under the pretext of helping to cultivate the vanilla bean, [but] it turned out he was there to help eradicate malaria. Eventually he was instrumental in bringing the first Zebu herd and became a rancher.

 

At thirteen I started working in a restaurant in the center of Mexico City. Then I moved to the Marquis Reforma Hotel with Chef Reichart Raoul—who has a Michelin star, and then on to the Four Seasons with Chef Fernand Gutierrez, followed by JW Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton Cancun. Then I flew to San Sebastian, Spain with Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena. For two years I worked with them. I then flew to Lyon, France and studied with Paul Bocuse. Then I returned home. I founded Grupo Litoral fourteen years ago and it took off.

SM: What is your culinary impact (you, as a chef, as well as the impact of Mexico City) on the world?
ACM: There are two very important things right now. Mexico is neither handsome nor rich but we are in fashion now as Mexico. We need to take advantage of that. We are in the forefront because of Mexico’s mescal, tequila, mole, and their ingredients. With humility we know that we are [one] of the top ten most important cities in the gastronomical world—without altering but respecting the flavors, and based only on fresh ingredients that belong to our city, our countryside, our land. We want to bring the real flavors from Mexico.
It’s like when you first tasted pizza and you loved it, but when you go to Italy you really taste and comprehend what pizza is.
SM: What do you think of other countries’ chefs bringing fusion to Mexican cuisine?

 

ACM: Fusion bothers me, because generally fusion creates confusion, and when you have confusion in the gastronomical world it is really messy. If you create fusion without a strong base you do not have pure gastronomy. You have to be very careful when creating fusion [with] gastronomical flavors, scents, and consistencies, above all making sure that the basics of Mexican cuisine are still there. You can modify the ingredients, and put in a little twist of your own, but keep the taste and purity. When [some] make tortillas, you taste one and there is nothing there, the flavor is not apparent—and that is because the person tries to change things and it doesn’t work. Then you have to do it all over again. This is the reason we came here: to present the consumer the real flavors of Mexico.

 

SM: We can see the passion, love, and dedication you have for the culinary world and your culture. With that in mind, we ask: What does family mean to you, especially during the holidays, and what do you like to cook and serve?
ACM: In Mexico, there is a tradition: You did not marry the most beautiful woman, but the one who was the best cook. There are very important holidays for us. Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos)—we are [one of] a handful of cultures that laugh at death—Christmas and New Year’s: the most important thing above all traditions is sitting down to dinner and sharing with loved ones. It’s our pride and joy; you can conquer anyone through food, if [you] teach them how to eat our food, drink our tequila, how to drink mescal. And those little things, those are the things we learn at our tables. I think that is the most beautiful thing we carry when we visit someone or entertain them. We establish camaraderie, and, for our holidays, food is very important.

 

Eating well is important, as well; you can eat very well in our country if you have a lot of money or not. However it is, our less fortunate people have a great palate. They know a good taco, gordita, and so forth, and when you know the distinction in flavors you can differentiate a good plate of beans and your taste buds are developed.

 

Our culture is based on our maternal development—it’s very matriarchal. There were no men cooking back then; it is only recently that men are in the kitchen, where our mothers were the greatest cooks [who taught] us how to cook, how to temper the fire, how to create that chemical reaction with the ingredients—give it the flavor, the voice, of our food, our “first taste of gastronomy” Our traditions are beautiful.

SM: Thank you so much for this interview! In closing, what did you create? What did you bring to this festival?
ACM: Thank you. In reality, we all worked on this together. There is a bit of flavor from each of us. Alejandro Ruiz brought a touch of mole, Daniel Tellez brought our chocolate mousse, and I brought the wonton dish. We worked together and executed our dishes very well, and we were able to marry all these flavors, creating wonderful flavors. We want to make sure that when you taste our food you can feel the love we bring to our dishes in every form. In Mexico we keep in touch with each other, we go out together. At times we go and eat at each other’s restaurants with friends. We have a great connection—in the full sense of the word.

http://www.grupo-litoral.com/nuestrahistoria.html

https://www.facebook.com/AzariCuenca

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