Wednesday, November 2, 2011

city bites goes live at urban element

urban element is thrilled to be the host venue to a new series loosely described as "live food blogging" by Ottawa Magazine Food Editor Shawna Wagman. This is the concept behind her three-part series of interactive dining experiences, where, acting as the honorary emcee, she brings interesting culinary guests to the table in a Q&A format. We'll be re-capping Shawna's entries from the Ottawa Magazine site - welcome Francisco Alejandri of Agave y Aguacate as our first special guest.

Last week, as part of Ottawa Magazine’s City Bites Live series, I hosted a special evening at Urban Element designed to introduce an enthusiastic group of home cooks, from armchair to serious, to the pleasures of genuine Mexican soul food. Expectations soared when Chef Francisco Alejandri started the class by saying: “I am 100 percent sure you will never see food like this in a restaurant.”

Alejandri is the owner of what can only be described as a gourmet Mexican food stall, Agave y Aguacate, tucked away in Toronto’s Kensington Market. During the three-hour class, he introduced us to six simple, but spectacular Mexican dishes featuring beautiful fresh tomatoes, tomatillos, and cilantro from Castlegarth Restaurant’s farm in White Lake, Ontario. Alejandri was the guest chef at Castlegarth the night before — he and the owner, Matthew Brearley, happen to be good friends from their Stratford Chefs School days. (Here’s a secret: we can expect to see Alejandri assisting Brearley at Gold Medal Plates in Ottawa this year).

As our evening unfolded, small courses were served along with wine and beer and everyone joined in with questions for the chef. Slowly you could feel the energy in the room intensifying as everyone fed off the quiet passion of the chef. The food was indescribably fragrant and delicious. The evening was truly memorable and inspiring.

Ten Inspiring Ideas About Mexican Cooking

1. Mexican cuisine is no more about sizzling fajitas, cheesy nachos, and salt-rimmed margaritas than pineapple chicken balls are a reflection of authentic Chinese cooking.

2. Mexican cuisine is perhaps one of the world’s earliest fusion cuisines. It was and remains a cuisine based on the staples of corn, beans, and chilies. With the arrival of Spanish in the 1500s, new meats, nuts, spices, fruits, and cheese were integrated into indigenous cooking. Over the course of the last 500 years or so, Mexican gastronomy has drawn from French, African, and even Asian influences.

3. In 2010, traditional Mexican cuisine was named on the representative list of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO.

4. Avocados were known by the Aztecs as “the fertility fruit.” The word “avocado” comes from the Spanish aguacate, which comes from the word for testicle.

5. Part of the reason Mexican cuisine is gaining in popularity lately is that many dishes are naturally gluten-free.

6. Mole means thick sauce and guacamole means thick avocado sauce. The key to great guacamole is in the paste that you start with before adding avocado. Many people make the mistake of using jalapeƱo peppers, but it should be serrano.

7. Francisco’s trick for making homemade tortilla chips is to spray the hot chips with saltwater solution. The water quickly evaporates leaving the salt clinging evenly to the chips. Much more effective than sprinkling with salt afterwards.

8. According to Francisco, tomatillos contain naturally complex flavours ranging from peanut butter to gooseberries to green apple.

9. The secret to delicious and perfectly balanced dishes is to taste, taste, taste as you cook.

10. In the kitchen, there is no substitute for patience, passion, and really good quality olive oil.

(Next up, a recap of the umami event.. and in January, the third installation in this series, we're holding out for some special guests from stay tuned! We'll post the exciting news on our blog!)

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