Last week we welcomed Cuisine Chef Fernando Hernandez and Patisserie Chef Eli Lopez into our demonstration kitchens to give us a taste of Yucatan cuisine. The Chefs spent two days at Le Cordon Bleu London and two days at Le Cordon Bleu Paris between Monday 15th and Thursday 18th August 2016. Both were born and raised in Mexico City and are currently Chef Instructors at Le Cordon Bleu Mexico where students can benefit from their wealth of experience and their undeniable passion for food.
The chefs cooked two different dishes each evening that exemplified the beauty of Yucatan cuisine. Yucatan is a state in the southeastern region of Mexico and was a place of great significance for the ancient Mayan civilization. The legacy of the Maya is still a major influence in Yucatan cuisine today which the guest chefs were keen to stress throughout their commentary.
Chef Fernando and Chef Eli introduced us to a variety of indigenous ingredients that were specific to the Yucatan region. From the Mexican delicacy of black paste and the strong musky flavours of ‘Epazote’, to the ancient grain pinole, and the unique qualities of the green Mayan liqueur Xtabentun, there was something new to be learnt for the whole audience. The chefs succeeded in educating our guests about regional cuisine in Mexico as well as exciting them with the unusual combination of flavours.
Whilst preparing their amazing recipes the chefs shared some of the history of their food with the audience. As Chef Fernando was busy mixing ingredients together he outlined the effect of the Spanish conquest of the Americas on Mexican cooking. He insisted; “it was the best thing that happened to Mexican food as there was an introduction of new ingredients and a fusion of different flavours from different continents.”
Chef Eli supported this notion as he explained that the liquor that he used for his dessert came to have its unique taste because of the Spanish invasion; “When they came across the original Mayan Liquor, they found it to be too strong so they simply added anise to it.” It was very clear that Mexico’s history and the Mayan civilization in particular plays an integral part in Yucatan cuisine.
Mexico is definitely known for its love of spicy food as Chef Fernando jokes, “When Mexicans don’t eat spicy food they feel like they are not eating!” But the talented Chef also stressed the importance of not over doing it as it ruins the flavour and takes away the enjoyment from the taste. So when preparing his dishes Chef Fernando made sure not to make the spice too overpowering for the audience.
The demonstrations were very active with some of the specialty ingredients being passed around so that the audience could really explore the textures and aromas of Mexico. Once the chefs had completed their dishes and plated up, the audience received a much anticipated taster of Yucatan cuisine. The dishes were sure to inspire the creative juices of audience members as the mix of flavours; spicy and smoky, sweet and heady, were so different and unique. There was definitely much to be admired in such a small sample!