Recipe for a Successful Gastronomic Event in Mexico
Michoacán is not noted for its gastronomic greatness within the broader context of Mexican cuisine. So how did Morelia en Boca pull off a three-day extravaganza of excellence?
To begin with, aside from the prix fixe cenas held in restaurants throughout the city, the entire festival unfolded in a single venue in the heart of downtown Morelia, the Centro Cultural Clavijero. The spacious historic building reputed to have the most photographed open courtyard in the city, housed each and every daytime event: tastings including pairings with local foodstuffs such as Michoacán’s famed queso cotija; upwards of 50 food and drink booths contained in a gourmet village; and round table discussions and recipe demos akin to mini cooking classes.
Morelia en Boca was conceived to be financially accessible to almost all foodies and aficionados of alcoholic beverages, and designed to provide a broad diversity of experiences and opportunities to discover new palate sensations. The event is based on a flat fee philosophy. This year’s daily entry passes for Friday and Saturday, the two fullest days, cost 382.5 pesos (under $30 USD) – to sample and to participate in formal tastings (promotional Morelia en Boca wine glasses were distributed to each attendee); to learn from culinary experts through attending forums; and to buy.
Organization is a key ingredient to any successful event of this magnitude, gastronomic or otherwise. Aside from the odd short, somewhat anticipated delay, the weekend went off without a hitch. The smoothness of operations was in large part as a result of the crackerjack cooperation between government and corporate sponsors and their respective memberships (i.e. Chef Joaquín Bonilla, Corporate Director of the Colegio Culinario de Morelia). While the event website, the press (i.e. food and wine journalist Rubén Hernández) and social media networks (Facebook in particular) were invaluable, distribution of a detailed print catalogue of events, each with a specified date and time, location and description, further assured that attending Morelia en Boca would be as easy as could be divined.
Some Key Participants at Morelia en Boca: Chefs, Wineries, Restaurants & More
Traditional cooks from the furthest reaches of Michoacán prepared regional dishes. They came from towns and villages including Santa Fe de la Laguna, Zacán, Angahuán and San Lorenzo, courting the appetites of the urbanites. They wooed not only Mexican nationals and tourists from abroad, but also chefs; both those who have borrowed from repertoires of generationally developed recipes, as well as visiting culinary dignitaries highly respected on the international stage. Morelia en Boca was a class example of the melding of tradition with modern trends in culinary seduction.
More than 20 chefs with impeccable credentials came to cook, from Spain (i.e. Oriol Castro), England (i.e. Anthony Demetre), the US (i.e. Dominique Crenn, winner of Iron Chef America), and to no surprise from different parts of Mexico (i.e. Alejandro Ruiz from Oaxaca; Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, Pedro Abascal, Paulina Abascal, Enrique Farjeat and Jair Téllez from Mexico City; Christian Bravo from Yucatán, Guillermo Barreto and Benito Molina from Baja California and Marta Zepeda from Chiapas).
They participated in round table discussions and workshops, and bestowed their culinary prowess upon those attending the evening dinner / wine pairing galas (i.e. chefs Pedro Abascal and Edgar Nuñez at restaurant San Miguelito, chefs Ruiz and Lucero Soto at Lu, Chef Crenn at Casa Grande, chefs Bravo, Téllez, Nuñez, Jonatán Lómez Luna, Diego Hernández, Joan Bagur and Maritere Ramírez Degollado at Hotel Juaninos, chefs Zepeda and Rubi Silvia at Los Mirasoles, and chefs Lula Martín del Campo and Jorge Vallego at Casa San Diego).
Tastings were bountiful, diverse and delicious, wines ranging from domestic (i.e. Casa Madero, L.A. Cetto and Monte Xanic), Spanish (i.e. Rioja) and Australian (i.e. Penfolds), to Mexican beer, to mezcal produced near San Miguel del Monte, nestled in the pine and oak forests high above Morelia. Thematic topics included “same grape, different regions,” the unusual “pairing mezcal with cotija,” and the predictable “wines and cheeses.”
Organizers of the catas seemed intent upon enticing the broadest array of individuals by ensuring that pricing of alcoholic products presented by chefs and sommeliers was appealing to all. For example there were tastings of three varieties of Bohemia beer (partakers were provided with a full bottle of each along with perfectly paired canapés; presenters included Chef Zahie Téllez), young wines in the 70 peso range, and priced at 630 pesos an exquisite Villa Montefiori Nerone with tones of dark fruit, violet, vanilla, black pepper and red cherry, with hints of mint and eucalyptus.
While the ten cooking demonstrations were by all counts both enjoyable and informative, two in particular stood out. Chef Castro, who has worked with Chef Ferran Adriá at famed Spanish restaurant elBulli, explained current trends and techniques in the handcrafted creation of sweets (dubbed “Las técnicas de elBulli”). Chef Muñoz Zurita and well-known regional cook Benedicta Alejo combined skill sets in a workshop entitled “Tamales, Corundas y Uchepos” to illustrate how haute cuisine and traditional cooking can coalesce within the context of crafting tamales and their Michoacán counterparts.
Lessons Learned in Michoacán: The Future of Morelia en Boca & Other Mexican Culinary Events
Organizers of similar events throughout Mexico have much to learn from Morelia en Boca. Its success was, and for years to come will continue to be based upon its flawless institution of a well - planned format, accessibility to all, and broad consumer appeal.
But Morelia itself provides an alluring setting for staging a culinary event aimed at attracting visitors from throughout Mexico as well as tourists from abroad; anyone interested in food and drink. Its proximity to both the nation’s capital, as well as pre-Hispanic ruins, craft villages, nature preserves and even beach resorts such as Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, no doubt will continue to be at least a part of Morelia’s recipe for success. The recent inscription of Mexican cuisine on UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity provides a further stimulus for considering Morelia en Boca in 2013, and beyond.
Alvin Starkman has written over 250 articles about life and cultural traditions in Mexico, with an emphasis on food and drink. He is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today, a program for Marca País – Imagen de México. With his wife Arlene he operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (http://www.casamachaya.com) and with Chef Pilar Cabera Arroyo Oaxaca Culinary Tours (http://www.oaxacaculinarytours.com).