It has been a good year for Mexican food in the UK, and my eating of it. Following an agreement between the Mexican and UK governments, the Year of Mexico in the UK (and visa versa) brings with it a packed programme of events, ranging from arts events to gastronomic one-offs. The latter, happily, is where I come in. First, I went to a dinner cooked by bright young chef Lee Westcott as he teamed up with Pangea's Guillermo González Beristáin for a night of dazzling food at Westcott's Typing Room in Bethnal Green. After that eye-opening evening of contemporary Mexican flavour, I winged my way to Mallory Court just outside of Leamington Spa for another taste of Mexico.
This time the dinner was hosted by Great British Chefs favourite Paul Foster and the ebullient Alfredo Villanueva of Romero y Azahar in Monterrey. Dubbed as 'casual modern Mexican food', Romero y Azahar has won praise for producing plates for those who like their meals full of colour and soul. As I would find out, this description could equally be used for the chef himself. I chatted to Paul and Alfredo about cultural exchange, passionate chefs and suprisingly, the Karma Sutra...
How difficult was it to incorporate both of your styles into one menu?
AV: Not that difficult. We didn’t have difficulty finding ingredients, here in the UK we have everything needed for making a beautiful Mexican kitchen!
PF: Yeah, for me it was quite easy really and I think the menu sits well. They’re quite contrasting dishes but the philosophy behind each dish and how we feel about food is quite in harmony, because it’s not over-complicated food with loads of garnishes. It’s about purity of flavour, simplicity and focussing time and attention on that. That’s what I see in Alfredo’s food so I think it sits really well as a menu.
How have you worked out the menu? Did you adapt dishes you already cook?
AV: I've tried to use UK ingredients but with Mexican flavours. In my history of cooking, it’s all about the ingredients – this was very easy because Paul’s kitchen is very honest and I don’t feel pressure to use weird techniques or chemicals, explosions or surprises! It’s just about explaining and exposing the customers to all the flavours of my soul.
PF: Yeah I totally agree, it’s awesome to do and get together. Alfredo’s saying the same as I was – the food’s in harmony and it works well together – I didn’t want Alfredo feeling under pressure. The reason I’ve chosen these dishes is because they’re what I cook and these are ingredients that are in season at the moment. When I went to Mexico I wanted to cook my food but use what was in season there, doing the same thing really. The only thing I used over there that I didn’t use here is pineapple, because it’s amazing over there and crap over here, so we want it to show the best of Mexico but with my style of dishes.