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A meeting of minds: Interview with Lee Westcott and Guillermo González Beristáin

A meeting of minds: Interview with Lee Westcott and Guillermo González Beristáin

by Ella Timney Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ella Timney talks to Lee Westcott and Guillermo González Beristáin about how they devised their stunning Anglo-Mexican tasting menu to celebrate Year of Mexico in the UK. Read the review of the meal here.

Ella is a Food Editor at Great British Chefs. She frequently puts her analytical skills to good use observing (and partaking in) drinking cultures in her favourite London ale pubs.

Eagle-eyed foodies may have noticed a flurry of Anglo-Mexican cheffy activity of late. If you’ve been marvelling at a number of Mexico’s finest chefs crossing the waters to the UK and wondering why, there is a simple answer; 2015 is the Year of Mexico in the UK, and conversely, the Year of the UK in Mexico. The ‘dual year’ is an arrangement set up by the governments of both of our countries to celebrate cultural exchange in many forms: musical, artistic, boring trade stuff and most importantly – if like me, food comes before anything else – culinary.

While this kind of government-sanctioned exchange may sound a little dry, it has actually created some incredible events that are worth lapping up for any foodie worth their salt. One such joyful event was the bringing together of two culinary luminaries in their fields, our very own Lee Westcott of Typing Room in Bethnal Green, and Guillermo González Beristáin – chef proprietor of Pangea in Monterrey in North East Mexico.

Guillermo is a heavyweight in Mexico, not just for his 50 Best Latin Restaurants-listed Pangea, but for his many eateries across Monterrey, with a diverse set of influences covering French, Italian and Chinese cuisines – a truly cosmopolitan chef. Pangea has won international praise for its merging of French technique with Mexican flavours and stunning ingredients. Lee Westcott, similarly, has been lauded for placing the focus on ingredients – his beautiful plates demonstrate alarmingly skilled technique, but each dish tastes as good as it looks. No style over substance here.

Despite not knowing each other before their cross-culinary union, the chefs have clearly hit it off. I arrived at the restaurant to the chefs chatting as press snapped photos of the two. I spoke to them about breaking culinary misconceptions, and how British and Mexican cuisine have more in common than they first appear to.

Guillermo González Beristáin
Guillermo González Beristáin
Lee Westcott
Lee Westcott
It was about keeping my style but using Mexican produce where I could and where it worked

Lee Westcott

Talk me through how you collaborated on the menu.

LW: First I went to Mexico to visit. It was about keeping my style but using Mexican produce where I could and where it worked, so we were in contact via email and Whatsapp a lot, talking about produce, what’s good and what wasn’t, then we finally came up with a menu based on what’s in season.

Do you ‘own’ certain dishes on the menu, or is it all collaboration?

LW: When I was in Mexico, I did two dishes and he did three. Now it’s the other way round and I’m doing three and he’s doing two.

Are there lots of Mexican ingredients?

GB: I have Mexican ingredients, of course.

LW: We had to source guava, which was something that we don’t really use here. I had to ask a few weeks in advance.

 
There’s this wave of Mexican cooks who have decided to become cooks. They are not cooks because they need a job, they’ve become cooks because they want to be cooks

Guillermo González Beristáin

Yeah, I was going to ask if there were any logistical difficulties…

LW: There were a few, but nothing that you don’t get around – you adapt and accommodate. A lot of ingredients you might tweak because they’re similar, and a little better here, or the other way around. But it’s all gone to plan really, the dishes?

GB: Yeah, a couple of ingredients only, but everything else has been sourced here.

Guillermo, what were your perceptions of British food before?

LW: Fish and chips?

GB: That was my perception maybe 10 years ago, now I know things have changed dramatically in the last 15 years. In a way, it’s similar to Mexico, no? Before Mexican cuisine was dominated by European chefs, and I believe in England many of the top chefs were French, fifteen to twenty years ago. And now there’s this wave of Mexican cooks who have decided to become cooks. They are not cooks because they need a job, they’ve become cooks because they want to be cooks, and that’s dramatically changed the way Mexican food is being perceived right now.

 
Lee Westcott and Guillermo González Beristáin
Lee Westcott and Guillermo González Beristáin

I suppose both cuisines have had misconceptions about them?

LW: I thought Mexican food was just really spicy, and I’m not one for spice to be honest. But when I went over there we went to many different restaurants, and on the first night I went back to my hotel room thinking how it’s not spicy. You can taste all the different spices, and that’s really nice. But Mexican food here is quite different.

Are you hoping to change the perception of Mexican food in the UK with all of the chefs coming over this year?

GB: Really high-quality, well-made Mexican food, even if it’s rustic and made in a traditional restaurant, shouldn’t burn your mouth. If it burns your mouth, it’s not well-made.

LW: I agree

 

All fired up?

Take a look at our popular collection of Mexican recipes.

There are some amazing menus coming up over the rest of the year, do you think it’ll pique the interest of the public?

GB: I’m hoping Lee will become an ambassador of Mexican food and speak highly, not of Pangea and me, but the city and the country, that’s what the most important thing is.

LW: I know there are a lot of interesting things going on in Monterrey, at least – that’s where I was staying – and it’s changed my concept of Mexican cuisine, which is really good. I’ll be telling a lot of people about it.

What do you hope people will take away from this evening? The fusion of cuisines doesn't seem like an obvious match initially...

GB: I guess some of the flavours are very opposite, but in a way the menu works and there’s a continuity in it that makes it work. I think we are both using the best ingredients possible, the best technique, and I think it’s fine cuisine regardless of whether it’s Mexican or English.

 

There are four more Anglo-Mexican foodie events in 2015.

Visit the Mexico-UK 2015 site for more information.

September 13th - Jorge Vallejo at Clove Club, London

September 18th - Diego Hernández-Baquedano at Casamia, Bristol

September 25th - Alfredo Villanueva at Mallory Court Hotel, Leamington Spa

October 23rd - Ángel Vázquez at Kitchen Table, London

 
 
 

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