The Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship 2013 winner Paul Moran recently completed his international stage at Chef Enrique Olvera’s Restaurante Pujol, in Mexico City – currently ranked as the 17th best restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Here he shares his experience with us…
When you find yourself looking for a new travel adventure far from the tour buses and piña coladas, visit Mexico City. When you find yourself looking for new flavours and a new dining experience free of snobbery visit Pujol. You won’t be let down.
Pujol is a Michelin-starred restaurant located in Polanco, which is Mexico’s version of Beverly Hills. A constant chain of security guards, chauffeurs and staff are present in front of the restaurant all day and night – so naturally I had to be escorted to the kitchen when I arrived for my stage, as I was not recognized by security.
It was 10am and the kitchen was in full swing. Jorge the sous chef was on hand to guide me in my first task. Onions are the second most used ingredient after corn and I began my stage preparing them for lunch service.
I was asked to clean blue corn that was infected with a delicious fungus, which causes the corn kernel to become around five times the regular size and develop shades of blue and black. It had a flavour of mushrooms and an acidity similar to fresh cacti leaves – it was later served with tomatoes and re-fried beans in a warm salad.
As lunch service finished at around 5pm, everyone took a quick break to eat and then prepared for the looming 6:30pm dinner service. At Pujol there is a line brigade and a prep brigade, with both teams working all day from 9:30am until 1am. I have never worked somewhere with so many staff, especially considering they only have about 100 covers a day. About 50 people work there, counting all the staff present in and outside the building.
A 90-degree ladder connected the prep kitchen to the service kitchen and it was the only means of getting up or down. It was very special to see 40kg of boiling braised lamb being transferred up this ladder by three people.
Later dinner service began. Stand out dishes for me included smoked baby corn dipped in ant and coffee aioli and squash marinated in lime stone, which was braised and then served in a vegetable consommé.
As dinner service wound down, the staff broke out the snacks. Mexican tortilla chips were generously dowsed with hot sauce and lime, then washed down with several litres of Coca Cola. Then came goats’ milk that had been mixed with sugar and cooked into a dulce before being rolled in peanuts. The finale was simple: a bag of fresh passion fruits that the dishwasher had brought along.
After finishing my stage and enjoying dinner at Pujol myself there was one dish that reaffirmed my previous experiences and encompasses what I strive to do in the future. A fermented baby banana was slowly confit in butter, which was covered in burnt and shredded macadamia nuts, chamomile flowers and unpasteurized cream. It was paired with a 30-year-old sherry and it left me speechless. This dessert had only five ingredients and no added sugar. The sixth ingredient was the amazing pairing of aged sherry.
It was by far the most complex and intriguing dish of the night and one that will inspire me to cook in a similar fashion in the future.