Mesamerica, Part 3: Geeta Bansal on Latin America's Premier Gastronimic Conference

Categories: On the Line

Geeta with Aquiles Chavez, the Dalí of Latin American cuisine
Every week, Clay Oven Irvine executive chef/owner Geeta Bansal shares an interview that she's done with some of the heavyweights of world cooking. Today, she regales us with her dispatch from Mesamerica 2013, one of the world's premier chef conferences. Enjoy!

Mesamerica 2013 in Mexico City, Day Three
By Geeta Bansal, Clay Oven Irvine Executive Chef/Owner

Since we enjoyed dinners at local restaurants with friends every night and hung out with them till early hours of the morning, by day three we were feeling it. The final day of Mesamerica had all the top culinary stars of the food galaxy and had been much anticipated by the crowd in the auditorium.

My Peruvian chef friend Virgilio Martinez, accompanied by petite Karime Lopez (originally from Mexico, and currently at Senzo, Cusco another restaurant by Martinez) gave an excellent demo. In my conversations with culinary students in the audience, they mentioned that had not seen plating techniques like those before and I think it was a very inspiring and a great learning opportunity for them. That is the whole purpose of these meetings: to encourage dissemination of information and share revolutionary techniques and ideas.

Virgilio Martinez with Chef Karime Lopez

Virgilio spoke about his Mater Initiative (you can read my interview with Virgilio from May in OC Weekly) and how he is attempting to bring his outside environment and its products into his kitchen. He regretted not being able to bring in the real deal (coca leaves) for his demo and tasting as customs would have had a problem with cocaine leaves; there were some disappointed spectators for sure in the crowd, judging by their reaction. Having spent time with both Virgilio and Karime I can say that they do practice what they preach (not talking about coca leaves here) and Central, Lima should be on every foodies list of restaurants in the world.

Virgilio's Plating Demo

Then we heard from Eduardo Vasquez, who expressed his views about the perfect meal and was followed by Antonio de Livier of Mexico. Livier was on stage demonstrating a classic Mexican stew: birria, except as a seafood. He was clearly a crowd favorite as he had them going with shout-outs for his favorites such as his mentor Olvera, Pujol the restaurant, Mexicali, and an obscure question about any New Yorkers in the audience. A Mexican colleague explained not to take it literally that it was an inside joke in Mexico (if anyone gets it, please do let me know).

Then came a very colorful discussion about the dawning of the culinary era in Latin America amongst journalists from Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Mexico and Peru, moderated by Sasha Correa of Venezuela. It was an interesting inside look from people with a close eye on happenings in that part of the world.

Alex Atala

Alex Atala, D.O.M, Sao Paulo, Brazil--the rockstar who really didn't need Enrique Olvera of Mexico to introduce him. I have seen him demo and speak at other such events and he has the audience engaged with his Hollywood looks, sense of humor, creativity and intellect. He said his interest in Mexico was sparked by his love for lucha libre. His cooking demo was setup like a wrestling match on the plate with shrimp and crawfish "wrestling" in front of an audience of rock shrimp and grasshoppers. Suddenly a bunch of Lucha Libre mask clad dancers joined him on stage to add to the fun. Needless to say he had the crowd eating out of his hands after that. He made them even happier by predicting that soon the top restaurant in Latin America could be from Mexico.

Luche Libre On Stage

After breaking for lunch, we came back to listen to Alfredo Villanueva and Pedro Guzman on the subject of branding followed by Aquiles Chavez, the food television star of Mexico who also owns a restaurant, La Fisheria, in Houston. We had met earlier in the day, him surrounded by fans, mostly of the female kind, and I told him he looked like a Mexican Dali (ha ha). He said no one has ever said that to him but I will let the picture at the beginning of this post tell the story.

Chavez told the audience that T.V is another facet of being a chef (The world of reality T.V shows has certainly changed the perception of the man on the street if this is true.) Chavez then warned the culinary students in the crowd to not wait to be discovered by a T.V producer but just work on honing their craft. It seemed contradictory to me but, O.K! Then one of the superstars of the day Jordi Roca, of El Celler Can de Roca, arrived creating a buzz in the auditorium.

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