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A restaurant called Pujol in Mexico City is arguably the country's best. The man behind it all is chef Enrique Olvera, who's been called one of the best chefs on Earth.
Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson makes a visit to Pujol, and speaks with Olvera (@enriqueolvera) about the traditions of Mexican cuisine.
On where the name Pujol comes from
"It does have like a Catalonian influence, the name. I was born and raised in Mexico, but my grandfather Enrique had some Catalonian blood in him, and he was always very supportive of me being a cook. So we wanted to, I wanted to have him present in some form or fashion at the restaurant."
On Pujol's stylistic approach
"I think right now we've passed through many stages, I think that's one of the beautiful things about Pujol is that it's ever-changing. Right now I would say it's a Mexican restaurant with a contemporary mindset, whereas before it was more of a contemporary restaurant with Mexican ingredients."
On how he got to the point where some were calling Pujol the best restaurant in Mexico
"I don't know you'd have to ask people (laughs). I guess the word 'best' is difficult to assess. I think quality-wise, we do our best. We buy the best product that we can from the best producers. We have really serious and committed cooks and wait staff, I would venture into saying we have the best cooks, that I can say.
"I do not believe that cooking is a competition. And therefore saying 'best,' it means that you're better than somebody else, and I think we're getting a better version of ourselves. So to me, food is more about where you're at. Pujol is a really old restaurant for Mexico City standards. There's not a lot of restaurants that have been open for 17 years."
"We're in love with our cuisine. But we believe that the best is in the future, in that way we're very American."Enrique Olvera
On why few other Mexico City restaurants have matched Pujol's longevity
"It's a hard city, it's... the dining scene here was very mellow, until recently there was not a lot of tourism in Mexico City, until recent years, the tourism that came to Mexico City not necessarily came for food. There was more of a cultural scene going on. There's not a lot of Mexican restaurants, either, a few years ago. There's a lot of fondas, markets, street carts, but if you think of like a really strong Mexican fine-dining institution, it's pretty recent that we started going into that world, and also incorporating contemporary techniques, and having a restaurant that was not traditional. I've never felt like I'm a traditionalist in the food world."
On holding on to some Mexican food traditions in his cooking
"I mean, we're in love with our cuisine. But we believe that the best is in the future, in that way we're very American. And a lot of Mexicans think the best is in the past. This city has been going on for thousands of years, and to me, yes, that is important, if it makes you a better city now."
On Mexican food in the United States
"I think that it's very close to... we're neighbors, so there's a huge influence, especially in the southern states of the U.S. And there's many kinds of Mexican cuisine in the United States. What people understand as Mexican cuisine in California is completely different from what they understand in Texas. And also, I think tacos are becoming universal. Tacos are becoming like pizza — pizza, it's probably not Italian anymore. There's more pizza eaten in Brooklyn than in Italy, I bet. So in that sense, I think tacos will become also universal."
This article was originally published on April 27, 2017.
This segment aired on April 27, 2017.
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