Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 2, Episode 4 - Chef's Table - full transcript

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[indistinct chatter]

[woman laughs]

[man singing in Spanish
and playing guitar]

[Enrique Olvera] In Mexico,
we grow up eating mole.

It is central to Mexican cuisine.

If you're celebrating something,
then you're having mole.

Mole is chaos.

There is ingredients
from almost everywhere in the world...

and when you put them together,
it makes sense.

They become Mexican...

for some magical reason.



And I... I think that summarizes Mexico.

[singing in Spanish]

[opening theme playing]

[church bell tolling]

[Daniel Humm]
I've been in food for 25 years...

but when I went to Mexico,
I was so blown away.

It has so many different cuisines
and ingredients...

that, frankly, I didn't even know
existed or you can cook with.

I felt like I didn't know anything.

[Colman Andrews]
The challenge that chefs face

trying to present Mexican food

is that we have these ingrained ideas
of what Mexican food is and isn't.

It's thought of as being fairly cheap.

Uh, people wouldn't spend a lot of money
on Mexican food,



whereas they would
on French food or Italian food.

To open a Mexican restaurant
of some sophistication

and some modernity was fairly daring.

[Daniel] I grew up
with total European training.

It was French cuisine, and that was it.

I had a very clear idea
what a fine dining restaurant looks like.

But then, going to Pujol...

and seeing
how he interpreted fine dining...

To me it felt like everything...
[stutters] was put on its head.

[Colman] He's very low key
and very, kind of, modest in a way,

and it's conveyed
in his approach to his menu.

[Daniel] You're eating at Pujol,
and you're eating a taco

in one of the greatest restaurants
in the world.

That's maybe not exactly
what you had in mind when you walked in.

But Enrique's not afraid of that
because he knows that it will deliver.

[Colman] There'll be things
like tacos and tamales,

but they'll have ingredients
that you might not expect.

It's such a simple cuisine
that you think it's easy to do,

but it's deceptively complex.

Maybe you... you have to really
be brought up in the tradition

to understand the food.

It's not simple.

[Daniel] You wanna be surprised.
You wanna be taken off guard.

And I think Enrique does this really well.

Something might come across very humble,
but then when you eat it...

it has so many layers, and...
and you're just blown away by it.

[girl in Spanish] They're all supposed
to be the same size.

Are you ready?

Do you want to make the tortillas, too?
Or just the masa balls?

-Tortillas.
-Yeah?

Yeah.

-Are you sure?
-I'm sure.

Like this.

Yes, Dad, I know!

[Enrique] That's right.
Smash it down.

Not too hard, otherwise...

[in English] No, I can do this.

[in Spanish] Put that here.

Put your hand here.

Oh! It broke.

Again.

[both chuckle]

[indistinct chatter]

[Enrique in English] In Mexico,
we grow up being told and we actually live

the fact that family is super important.

I remember from my childhood
how I learned to catch a ball

and how I learned to ride a bike,
so I tried to make sure

that whenever we see each other,
it's a very special thing,

because I can't be in their lives
all the time.

I was born in Mexico City,
in, uh, Colonia del Valle.

I have a brother.
His name is Alfonso.

And then my father worked
for a cable manufacturing company...

so my mom stayed at home with us.

We were lower-middle class.
We lived a very humble life.

Food was kind of like a reward.
So if you were a good boy...

uh, then you get esquites.

If you make your homework,
you get sweets at night.

So food was always a reward to me.

My mom would always ask me,
"What do you want for your birthday?"

And still, I am turning 40 in a few weeks,
and she asks me,

and I always say the same thing,
"I want pulpos en su tinta."

That's my thing
for special occasions at home,

and I always craved it.

Pulpos en su tinta is basically an octopus

that has been cooked
into a stew that has ink.

Usually, little kids
feel weird about octopus,

and I always liked things
that nobody else liked.

And now, at Cosme,
the restaurant in New York,

we're doing an octopus that is fried.

We just dust it with a little corn starch,

and then we serve it with mole
that is made with cashews.

And so the beautiful moments
from my childhood,

they end up showing up in the menu
in some way or form.

People come to the restaurant
to celebrate.

So it makes sense to have a dish
that makes me happy.

[grunts]

[chefs laughing]

[indistinct chatter]

[in Spanish] It tastes like cumin.

Because that's what was left
in the molcajete.

But it's good.

That's the secret recipe...

Whatever is left over in the molcajete
from the last time you used it.

[both laugh]

[Enrique in English]
Most people in Mexico will tell you

that the best tacos
are eaten on the streets.

So it was a challenge for us.

How can we make a better taco

than the ones
that are sold in the streets?

In order to produce
a taco that is amazing,

you must understand how a taco is built.

And I am not referring to diagrams
and case studies about a taco.

I'm just saying you
have to eat a lot of tacos

to know how a good taco
feels in your mouth.

[indistinct chatter]

[in Spanish]
One with egg and one with nopal.

Can you please give me a beer
and a campechano taco?

[speaking Spanish]

[Enrique in English] The filling needs to
be a nice combination of things happening.

Must be some spice, some acidity,
some crunchiness,

and there needs to be a lot of flavor.

With street food, the flavor is
a combination of fat, spice and acid.

So there is a lot of "flavor"
because there is a lot of fat.

It's an easy resource to go to fat.

But to me, the real flavor
comes from the quality of ingredients.

At Pujol, we are fortunate
to be able to make tacos

to a very high standard of excellence,
without going to fat.

We can get amazing avocados.

And we have Luis in Oaxaca,
and he sells us these beautiful tomatoes.

So what you're eating
on top of the taco,

if you take the tortilla off,
can become a plated dish

in any fine dining restaurant.

[slurps]

Pass it.

[in Spanish] It's good.

[in English] So good.

[chuckles]

Mmm!

[woman in Spanish] It's good.

[indistinct chatter]

-Good?
-Yeah.

Thanks to those spices
that were left over in the molcajete.

[both laugh]

[speaking Spanish]

[Enrique in English] Allegra and I met
almost 20 years ago, I think.

We are not counting.
I don't think you should count.

That's part of the secret.

And in high school, she lived by herself,
so I started to cook for her.

So I... I started cooking,
just trying to impress Allegra,

and I... I just realized I loved it.

And then I started cooking for my friends.

It was fun because I'd get to spend
a day in the market

and then come back, cook,
play some music.

[laughing]

Like, after a series
of weekend dinners with my friends,

it got so popular that, actually,
the father or the parents of my friends

went to the parties...

held by teenagers.

[indistinct chatter]

That was the moment I started
to think about cooking as a career.

[Enrique] When we're talking about food,
Mexico is a country with many contrasts.

Mexico is extremely rich in its poverty...

and I see that in food.

When you have "nothing to eat,"
you have to eat anything and everything.

A few years ago,
I went to Oaxaca with Alejandro Ruiz.

We wanted to visit
the coastal part of Oaxaca.

And we...
The first stop was in Cuquila.

So it's a coffee farm.
There's this guy named Roberto.

He was making a sauce.
You know, molcajete.

And I was starving
because it was a long trip.

Directly, I went to the kitchen to grab
something to eat and I saw Roberto.

He was making the sauce and I ate it.

And that's one of the most
beautiful moments of my life

because I discovered
the taste of chicatana ants.

It's a very particular taste,
and I just fell in love with it.

It was one of the most delicious things
I've ever tasted in my life.

Chicatanas are flying ants,
and they come out with the first rain

that happens
in the southern part of Mexico.

So four or five days, you have
chicatanas in the year, and that's it.

To me, that's the definition of luxury,
because you can only have it for four days

and it comes from a very specific place.

That's what I mean by the contrasts.

If you have food available all the time,

you probably wouldn't have eaten
chicatana ants.

If you weren't hungry,
you probably wouldn't have eaten worms.

But by that poverty...
we found things that are delicious.

By the time I... I was finishing
high school, I knew I wanted to cook.

When I told all my friends,
they told me, like,

"You're crazy.
It's a hobby."

Also, in Mexico, in general,
there's this thing about

licenciados and arquitectos and doctores

being, like, higher on the food chain

and cooks and carpenters and plumbers
being in the lower part of the food chain.

I hated the fact that cooking
was not seen as a profession.

It was just something
that people did out of necessity.

Back then, my idols were, uh,
Jean-Georges and Daniel,

and all these chefs
that had restaurants in New York

and they were getting four stars
from the Times.

So I started looking
at schools in New York.

I didn't care what they thought.

I was happy with my decision
and I was gonna pursue it.

Once I was in cooking school,
I was so happy.

And I was passionate about technique
and passionate about sautéing,

and I became, like,
this machine of cooking,

and I was outperforming myself.

I didn't miss one day.

I graduated with honors.
It was, like...

It was what I liked,
so I just felt incredible doing it.

[indistinct chatter]

[machine sputters]

[machine whirring]

[Colman] Two years ago, Enrique invited
my wife and I down to the kitchen.

They were making tortillas
as fast as they could.

And he gave us each one...

and he sprinkled some salt
and put a squeeze of lime on each one,

and we just rolled it up
and ate it like that.

It was one of the best things
I had all year.

It had so much flavor,
so much delicacy.

He did this kind of extraction,
of getting to the essence of flavor.

The heart and soul
of Mexican cuisine is corn.

There are hundreds of varieties of corn,
if not thousands.

The problem is,
in the interests of efficiency,

many of the old traditional varieties
are being phased out.

And these are absolutely essential
to Mexican cuisine.

To me, the risk is losing these
amazing ingredients that I can cook with

and just being able
to find one kind of corn.

GMO corn,

it's a consequence of the agricultural
system that is not working.

Corn used to happen in the backyard
of people's houses, no?

And it was not a monoculture.

It was part of a farming system
called milpa.

Milpa is a pre-Hispanic system
that, uh, was developed to grow corn...

where, uh, there's a system of plants
that co-exist and work together.

So the corn will draw
a lot of nitrogen from the soil,

and the beans will put it back.

There is no waste.
Everything gets utilized.

Seeds carry a lot of knowledge.

If you think about corn
and you think about all the time

that it took to become corn,

it's just a pity
that in the last 60, 70 years,

we can destroy all that knowledge.

I've always believed
that when something is beautiful,

you should take care of it.

With milpa, farmers can keep
those different kinds of corn alive.

I don't wanna sound too poetic.
I don't believe in that stuff.

But milpa is like a gift,
a gift that the earth gives you.

[Enrique in Spanish]
Go get your backpacks.

-What?
-No!

Yes.
And go put on your shoes.

No, no, no, no.
No, no, no, no, no.

[Enrique] People are going
to think you don't like going to school.

[Allegra chuckles]
But that is actually true.

[conversing in Spanish]

-[speaking Spanish]
-[meowing]

[Enrique in English] By the time
I graduated from cooking school,

I was happy on how I was cooking.

I felt I... I knew enough
to open the restaurant.

So I went back to Mexico,
and my parents would have friends over,

so I just started making dinners.

They were like, "Oh, this is delicious."

I'm like,
"Yeah, I'm trying to open a restaurant."

There were people
that were investing, like, $3,000.

That's how I got the money.
I showed my best.

The first day we opened Pujol,
it was May 6th, 2000.

[interviewer] So what happened that day?

What happened? [chuckles]
Nothing happened. Uh...

A few friends came over...

but there was nothing going on.

No. There's no papers,
no interest, no anything.

I thought I was doing great,
and then you open a restaurant,

and you can't even get
four people in the restaurant.

It was just like a big slap in the face.

I remember there was this huge
seafood restaurant next to Pujol,

and there was lines of cars,
and I used to go out and say, like,

"What the hell am I doing wrong?"
'cause I knew my food was better quality.

When you open a restaurant,
you never think you're gonna fail.

And when you start failing,
people start panicking.

At some point,
I thought maybe I should close Pujol.

It's the worst feeling on Earth.

Just one day, out of nothing,
I walked into the kitchen,

and every time they had...
They had music on when I was not there.

And I walked in and they turned it off.

Uh, I was tough on the guys

and I was, like, pushing
and pushing and pushing.

Every now and then, I shouted,

and I thought that, as a cook,
you needed to do certain things.

You needed to follow certain techniques.

And if you were doing a mayonnaise,

there was this way of making a mayonnaise,
and that was the right way.

And if you were a good cook,
you needed to be like that.

I realized I was taking it too seriously.

I went into cooking 'cause I had a lot
of fun doing it when I was a teenager,

and I love sharing with my friends.

At some point, I forgot about it, uh...

I was too obsessed trying to produce
really high-quality food,

and I forgot about having fun.

I think that Mexicans
love to have a good time...

and if you're gonna
have a restaurant in Mexico,

you need to be a reflection of that, no?
Of people having fun.

Being laid-back and enjoying life,

and enjoying cooking
as much as you enjoy eating.

So the next day,
I walked into the kitchen,

and I said, like,
"Yeah, you can leave it on. It's fine."

That just changed the whole dynamic.

Once the cooks were enjoying their work,
they performed much better,

and that is when we started
to get more and more customers.

[cheering]

[inaudible]

[Enrique in Spanish]
Which spices do we have in the pantry?

We have cinnamon,
star anise, cumin, allspice...

We have star anise?

-Let's throw a couple of those in.
-Yes, Chef.

-So it'll be less traditional.
-Yes, Chef.

[Enrique in English] So, usually,
what I like to do is, uh,

think of how I like to eat
uh, when we create a dish.

So, for example, the chicken dish
that's on the menu,

it's too high on carbs,

so I want to do something
that is lighter for the menu.

Uh, because we don't want it
to be too traditional...

I don't want to do the same things
my grandma did.

Uh, what we're doing is
we're changing the spice.

Uh, I like anise because it's digestive.

So, at the end of the meal,
you should feel nice and relaxed.

[interviewer] Why don't you wanna do
what your grandma did?

-'Cause she already did it, man. Right?
-[chuckles]

[Enrique] We're not that concerned
about traditionality here.

It's more about getting new ideas
and getting tired of a dish.

No? Like, sometimes,
[stammers] I see a dish and it's, like,

"What the hell was I thinking
when I created this?"

No, I don't like it anymore.

I want to move on, or I...
I just simply get sick of it.

And so, every time I'm here,
I try to change the menu.

We're always changing.
I always change my mind.

I like changing.
I don't like to stick to a plan.

[indistinct chatter]

Fancy French restaurants,
after a meal,

will wheel a cart around to the table,
full of cognacs and Armagnacs

and calvados
and all of these after-dinner drinks.

So there's an equivalent at Pujol,

except the bottles are all mezcal.

Mezcal is very similar to tequila,

but tequila is made
from one variety of agave.

Mezcal is made from many,
many different varieties of agave.

Most of the mezcal
is made by small farmers.

You get the individuality
of the area in which it's grown.

It's, uh, kind of an example,
in a way, of the unknown,

or unrealized, under-appreciated
diversity of Mexico.

[chainsaw whirring]

[farmer in Spanish] Here is the beginning
of the production of the Ensamble,

which is a blend of six different agaves.

It was designed thinking of the origin.

[Enrique]
How do you come up with the blends?

[farmer] One way is separating by species,
by variety.

The other is selecting
a specific land area,

and processing all mature agaves on it.

So you mix varieties,
but they are linked by a common land.

They all grew in the same place.

[Enrique in English] The idea of a product
being able to showcase the terroir,

which is the union
between the land and the people...

If we are able to do that with food,
I think it's a pretty cool idea.

And we aspire to do that.

[farmer in Spanish] Agave plants take
about 12 to 15 years to mature.

At that point you can cut the plant,

process it and bring it here
to transform it into mezcal.

-[in Spanish] Time makes wonders.
-Yes.

-It makes us old.
-[both chuckle]

I'd rather be old than a dumbass.

Sí. [chuckles]

[Enrique in English] Lately,
I've been traveling a lot for work.

Allegra understands it,
but with the kids it's more difficult.

[line ringing]

[line continues ringing]

[Allegra in Spanish] Hello?
[Enrique] Hello.

[Allegra] Hi, love.
[Enrique] Hi, sweetie.

[Allegra] Aldo wants to say hello.

Okay, put him on the phone.

[Aldo] Hi, Daddy.

Hi, love.
Did you get a stomachache?

-[Aldo] Yes.
-What did you eat?

[Aldo] Two lemonades.

And how is your brother?

-[Aldo] What?
-Your brother.

-Is your brother feeling better or not?
-[Aldo] He is better.

Okay, kisses.
Put Mom on the phone.

[Aldo] What?

I said, "Kisses,"
and please put Mom on the phone.

[Aldo] Sí.

-Thank you.
-[Allegra] What happened?

Nothing.

Is he better?
Do you think it was the medicine?

[Allegra] Excuse me?

Do you think the medicine
gave him the stomachache?

[Allegra] Are you in the kitchen?
Because I can't hear you.

No, I am outside.

[conversation continues indistinctly]

[Enrique in English] I try not to spend
more than two weeks away from home.

With the kids it's difficult
because they don't like it.

I know they don't like it. I don't like
being apart for a long time, either.

It's just part of my career and I...

I could complain about it,
but I... I don't.

I... I love what I do.

I know there is a price
that you pay for this,

and you can't have it all in life.

So just deal with it.

[indistinct chatter]

[Enrique in Spanish] My man.
You're late.

[Luis] Traffic was bad.

[Enrique] I thought
you were doing shots of mezcal.

[Luis] No, no.

[Enrique in English] By 2004,
Pujol was getting to be known

as one of the best restaurants
in Mexico City.

But still, something was not right.

There was something
that I didn't feel connected to.

Most of my references
at that point in time

were these American chefs
that started the New American cuisine.

So, if you saw my dishes,
they kind of looked like that,

but, obviously,
I was using Mexican ingredients

because, uh, that's what I had available.

[in Spanish] Can you handle it?
[chuckles]

[Enrique in English] Ricardo Muñoz Zurita
is a very well-known chef here in Mexico.

One day, he told me,
"You're a really good cook,

but you're not making Mexican food.

You're using Mexican ingredients
in a very shy way

and you should know your culture better,

and you have a responsibility
as a Mexican cook to do Mexican food."

And I never forgot that.

What we were cooking at Pujol
was not authentic.

When I thought about Mexican food,

I liked eating most tacos,
and tostadas, and mole and huaraches.

Why did I have a restaurant
that was not serving that kind of food?

And at that point,
I realized that I wanted to be creative,

but at the same time,
I wanted to be...

true to myself.

In the context of fine dining,

cooking Mexican food
was never good enough.

There was no fine dining
Mexican food restaurant, and it's sad.

Not having Mexican restaurants
in Mexico City is a tragedy.

And now we had a responsibility
to generate a Mexican movement, in a way.

[singing in Spanish]

[conversing indistinctly]

[Enrique] When you go
to the origin of things,

you get connected.

And you understand
how people approach their cooking.

I think when you have
that kind of connection,

you always end up going back.

I started going frequently to Oaxaca.

Oaxaca is a magical place
if you like eating.

It has a diversity of cuisines.

When I went to Oaxaca,
I discovered different kinds of mole.

These red moles and these yellow moles
that I had never even imagined.

I started to realize that
"Hey, we have these great traditions,

we have these fantastic cuisines,
these great ingredients.

And what we should be doing
at the restaurant is

using those products
in a unique way,

that can be different and can preserve,
in a way, our culture."

I think the dish that Enrique
will go down in culinary history for,

above all others, is his take on mole.

Mole, as we know it today,
is a little bit of a mélange

of Spanish and native Mexican.

It's made with chocolate and with nuts
and then all kinds of other ingredients.

[Daniel] When I heard about
Enrique's preparation of that mole,

it... it was just so incredible.

In winemaking,
that's called the solera style,

where you have some of the old wine...

and then you introduce the new wine to it.

I think with this, it's amazing

because he makes this sauce
using kind of that same idea.

That sauce evolves
and it's this living thing.

[Colman] When I was in, uh, Mexico City,
I think it had been going for 453 days.

He said there's probably
a hundred ingredients in there.

It's a very, very complex sauce,

much more complex than
any classical French sauce you could name.

And he serves it on a plate
in a perfect circle.

And in the middle of the perfect circle,
like a bull's eye, is a new mole.

It's so good, it's so intense,

it's so complex, and yet it's so simple.

[stuttering] And you think about it,
it's a triumph of...

imagination over technique.

[Daniel] That mole madre was, for me...
was one dish that has always stuck with me

because it was, um...

really surprising to get the main course
in a restaurant like this

and it's just, basically, a sauce.

Imagine, like, that sauce
is not seasoned perfectly,

or something is off with that sauce.

That's all there is on the plate.

At that time, you really know
that there is a chef behind it

who is very confident,
who really knows what he is doing.

[Enrique] Once I was cooking Mexican food,
everything changed.

I was no longer cooking from
The French Laundry Cookbook.

I was cooking from my own references.

[Colman] Enrique found
his way of approaching

the food that he had grown up with,

but in a way that no chef had
in a Mexican restaurant before.

Enrique is unquestionably
modernizing Mexican cuisine.

But his way of modernizing,
instead of saying,

"Get rid of the old stuff
and let's look to the future,"

is, "Let's keep the old stuff.

Let's keep what's really good
in the old stuff."

It's a new approach to...

taking the food into the future
by using the food of the past.

After that, Pujol really took off.

[Daniel] Fifteen years ago,
no one talked about a chef from Mexico.

He's really made a name for himself.

But even more so, really made the world
aware of the Mexican food culture.

I think Enrique's at the forefront
of that movement.

[speaking Spanish]

I don't think about success
in terms of recognition.

I think success is, uh, being proud
of what you do every day.

As you grow older,
your cooking starts being more mature

because you're basically free
of the stereotypes

of how you should cook
or what you should be cooking.

I'm very proud of my culture.
I'm very proud of my food.

Like, I feel proud to be a Mexican.

[man in Spanish]
There is a big rumor going around, man.

[woman in Spanish] Do you have a date?

[Enrique in English] I have talked
to Allegra about the possibility

of moving to Oaxaca, and...

if I had it my way,
I would probably...

retire there, and live there and...

be happy in, uh...
in Oaxaca,

having some mezcales,
some good mole and eating tortillas.

Sounds like a good ending, no?

The happy ending.