Emirates Palace is hosting a week-long culinary celebration from September 16 to 21 to coincide with Mexico’s Independence Day. The hotel has partnered with the Embassy of Mexico in Abu Dhabi to bring in award-winning Iron chef Federico Lopez, who will prepare an a la carte menu at Sayad restaurant.
Lopez is the owner of Taller Gourmet, one of Cancun’s best-loved restaurants, and he is considered a pioneer of modern Mexican cuisine. The three dishes that we know for sure will be served include black recaudo tuna tostada ceviche, the chef’s signature tik-in-xic snapper with Mayan salsa, and a sweet Tabascan chocolate, cinnamon and spiced mousse.
However, Lopez says he has “brought more than 70 recipes with me for the festival”, dishes that represent a contemporary approach to the traditional Mayan flavours of the Yucatán Peninsula. He tells us more about his menu, method and Mexican cuisine at large.
Welcome to the UAE. Is this your first time here, and what are you looking forward to most?
Yes, this is my first time in this part of the world. I’m looking to learn about the culture and how this community is growing so much in the tourist world. But at the same time, I’m trying to catch some visitors and residents of Abu Dhabi, and give them a taste of Mexico and the Mayan world, so they go and visit my country, too.
What can foodies look forward to when they visit Sayad this week?
A taste of classic but also modern Mexico; a taste of both street food and fine dining; and above all, a taste of thousands of years of culture, but also my hand and interpretation of Mexican cuisine.
What are some of your signature dishes and some of your favourite ingredients to work with?
I work with ancient Mayan flavours like recaudos, and I am also going to be making ceviche, tirados, tik-in-xic, tostadas and some Mexican pipianes, as these are the main products we have in the Yucatan Peninsula. There will be birria de cordero, some soups and a lot of antojitos. And I am also going to present the most traditional desserts with a contemporary flair, like churros, pastel de tres leches, and paste de chocolate with ancho chili pepper.
How important is spice in your kitchen?
Frankly, you can eat Mexican food as it is, except salsa: you need spice in that because that’s where the heat comes from.
Other than Mexican, which is your favourite cuisine and why?
There are several and for several reasons. French, for its rules and classic dishes. Oriental, for its perfection. Indian, for its explosive flavours. And Mediterranean, for its health value.
Mexican cuisine is oft-abused, with many restaurants serving up only the most basic, stereotypical fare. Is this changing now?
We addressed the Tex-Mex question a long time ago in a Mexican symposium. What happened is that the cuisine of the north of Mexico travelled to the United States. The rest of the world first knew about this cuisine by way of America, and by copying what the Americans like, such as burritos, nachos and chimichangas. But the important thing to take from this is that the idea started to travel. Today, with the internet, Instagram and TV shows, people are discovering other Mexican regions and states, and that’s where the beauty lies. They understand that there is something beyond tacos and hot peppers. Even in Mexico, the people from the north are eating the food from the south and so on. The country and its cuisine are on the rise.
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