VIDEO: A Gringo In Mexico’s perspective on the 2014 World Forum on Mexican Gastronomy (FMGM).
PUEBLA, MEXICO – As El Gringo rolled down the long, bright hallway of Puebla’s Central Expositor conference hall toward this year’s World Forum on Mexican Gastronomy (or FMGM for the Foro Mundial Gastronomia Mexicana), Ruth Alegria – member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the James Beard Foundation and Slow Food Mexico – broke it down for me. “The whole idea here is to petition UNESCO for Intangible Cultural Heritage status on the cuisine and culinary traditions of the various Mexican states. Michoacan is the only state that currently has it and it is not easy to get. They were granted the status in 2010 after having been denied in 2006 in Paris. Five other states are working on their applications now; Puebla, Oaxaca, Chiapas, the Yucatan and Jalisco.”
I was fortunate to have attended the first annual FMGM in Acapulco in 2013 and was invited back as a member of the US press to cover the event again this year. As we neared the exhibit hall, the smell of many good things cooking wafted through the air and I was hungry to learn more.
According to UNESCO, Intangible Cultural Heritage includes “…traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, arts, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts”. Traditional Mexican food touches on all of these aspects. Along with the organization the Conservatory of Mexican Culture ( or CCGM for the Conservatorio de la Cultura Mexicana), the FMGM’s goal is organize the various factors of Mexican cuisine – from the traditional to the modern – to “shape the world of gastronomy in an exercise of sharing knowledge and experiences”.
The FMGM invited three dozen traditional cocineras from around Mexico to participate in demonstrations, presentations and the preparation of their traditional cuisine for Foro attendees during the afternoon break throughout the three-day conference. Standout dishes this year for El Gringo were a mole verde and chile relleno from the state of Puebla and a three meat tlayuda from the state of Oaxaca. Although the dozens of plates on offer varied in taste, presentation and ingredients, they all share a common and rich pre-hispanic heritage worthy of preservation.
“For decades, women in towns and villages throughout Mexico would meet on a regular basis for a party and compete to see who could cook the best dishes,” Ruth informed me. “That’s where a gathering like this originates, but here we have women from all over Mexico. And it’s all so good. Here, you’ve got to try this…”, this being a rich, piquant atole with chiles from the state of Tlaxcala. Muy rico!
On the other end of the spectrum are today’s top names in Mexican cuisine – the chefs and culinary artists who have a deep understanding and appreciation for traditional Mexican preparations and ingredients, and are expanding the boundaries of its presentation and taste profiles. Some of Mexico’s finest such as Javier Plascencia, Roberto Santibañez, Guillermo Gonzalez, Abdiel Cervantes and Alicia Gironella – considered the matriarch of modern Mexican cuisine – were in attendance and worked side-by-side with the traditional cocineras during cooking demonstrations.
Within the cavernous main hall of the Central Expositor 150 vendors proudly displayed their products – predominantly very small producers from rural and urban areas throughout Mexico, many part of the Slow Food movement. El Gringo sampled mezcals, honey, moles, candies, coffees, hot chocolates, cheeses and more, chatting with the vendors between sips and bites. Mexico’s producers are people who are hardworking, adherent to pre-hispanic practices, and run their small businesses in such a manner as to minimize environmental impact.
During the final presentation, Enrique Olvera – arguably Mexico’s most acclaimed chef – discussed his new NYC restaurant, cosme. The restaurant has its foundation in traditional Mexican cuisine and is steeped in very local sourcing, offering “Mexican-inspired cuisine that is specially adapted to take advantage of local and seasonal ingredients harvested from the nearby Hudson River Valley.” Well aligned with the progressive attitude of the FMGM.
At the end of his presentation, Olvera was presented a bottle of Mezcal, posed with dignitaries and organizers for photos, and walked off stage into a waiting phalanx of white chef-jacketed culinary students seeking selfies and autographs. A fitting end to a conference that leverages the current while looking forward to preserving it’s culinary past.
For a photo highlights overview with music, please enjoy the video at the top of this post.
Your Gringo in Mexico,