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Obsession 2018: Jorge Vallejo

Obsession 2018: Jorge Vallejo

by Gemma Marti 08 February 2018

Gemma Martí travels to Northcote to experience the progressive cooking of Mexican chef Jorge Vallejo on the fourteenth night of Nigel Haworth’s Obsession festival.

Obsession is one of the most exciting events on the foodie calendar because it brings such incredible talent from all over the world to beautiful Michelin-starred Northcote. Now in its eighteenth year, the festival has grown massively – 2018’s event spanned eighteen days and saw an incredible twenty-two chefs take part. On the night I was there, it was Jorge Vallejo’s turn – head chef of Quintonil in Mexico, a restaurant voted as the twenty-second best in the world.

The general perception of Mexican food in the UK is changing, with more and more of us realising that fajitas, enchiladas and chilli con carne are nothing like what you find in actual Mexico. Restaurants are popping up all over the UK offering an authentic taste of Mexican cooking, but back in the country itself it’s chefs like Jorge who are pushing the boundaries of Mexican food completely.

It was a very rare treat to get to taste Jorge’s cooking without having to travel to his restaurant, and after a brief introduction by Northcote’s managing director Craig Bancroft (who informed us this night was the 181st in Obsession's history) everyone was keen to taste the evening’s menu. Here’s what was on offer.

The dishes

Scallops ‘vuelve a la vida’ with noisette spices

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The pastry holding the scallops was surprisingly sweet and contrasted well with the pickled beef tongue hiding below, alongside an onion relish. On top of the raw scallops was a zesty dressing and plenty of fresh herbs and edible flowers, which reflected Jorge’s love for growing them in his restaurant’s roof garden. It was a perfectly dainty, pretty way to begin the dinner.

Langoustine mosaic, ‘tomatillo’ sour cream and caviar sauce

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This stunning dish saw raw langoustines held together with a thin layer of tomatillo jelly, surrounded by a sour cream sauce flavoured with chilli oil and both sturgeon and trout caviar. It was one of my favourite dishes of the night – just the right amount of chilli to add warmth but not overpower the delicate langoustine.

Turbot in a black garlic and chilhuacle chilli gastrique

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For me, this was the winning dish of the evening – a beautiful piece of luxurious turbot cooked to perfection in brown butter with a reduced orange sauce spiked with cumin, cardamom and cinnamon. The fish sat atop a bed of puréed chilhuacle chillies and artichoke, which had a deep, almost bitter taste, but on top were artichoke crisps somehow shaped into leaves. It was a truly incredible dish.

Partridge, caramelised onion glaze and chestnut purée

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There aren’t any game birds in Mexico, so this was Jorge’s way of incorporating a local ingredient into his own style of cooking. The partridge was cooked sous vide, keeping the meat moist and firm, before being glazed in a hibiscus gel and served with a chestnut and truffle purée and partridge reduction. The combination of the earthy truffles and sweet hibiscus was perfectly judged; both complemented the partridge beautifully.

Lamb saddle, hoja santa, charred cabbage leaves and mole from Atocpan

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This was a bit of a divisive dish due to what was accompanying the lamb saddle – a grasshopper mousse! While it proved a bit too much for a few people in the room, I finished it off and found it to have a lovely delicate flavour. Both the mousse and the lamb were wrapped in hoja santa, a Mexican herb that tastes a little like aniseed, while the intense mole sauce had an incredible depth of flavour thanks to the thirty plus ingredients it takes to create it.

Mamey panna cotta with toasted corn crumble and ‘Pixtle’ ice cream

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This was a celebration of the mamey fruit, which is all but unheard of in the UK but native to Mexico and Central America. It tastes like a sort of mix between pumpkin and sweet potato, but with undertones of almond, honey and vanilla. The ice cream was made from the mamey fruit’s stone, called pixtle, and had an almost marzipan-like flavour, while the crumble was made from a simple combination of corn flour and unrefined cane sugar. The edible flowers finished it off nicely, and it was one of the most interesting desserts I’ve ever eaten.

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