Chef Enrique Olvera’s contemporary Mexican cooking is a revelation; simple at a glance but rich in meaning and flavour

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Rare is a meal that is consistently impressive from beginning to end, but the charred baby corn to start and the candied pumpkin and “artisanal cream” to end were solid bookends to a thoughtful menu by chef Enrique Olvera, the chef behind Pujol Restaurant in Mexico City. His pop-up at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental’s Tian & Di rooms was fleeting – at the time of writing, there is only one more dinner service to go before his team returns to Mexico – but the dishes undoubtedly memorable.

Chef Olvera says himself that his cooking philosophy is one grounded in simplicity – though we were very much impressed by the complexity of his flavours and the cleverness of his presentation. 

We at Hong Kong Tatler Dining were fortunate enough to join chef Olvera in the kitchen a few hours beforehand to see, first-hand, how he created the first canapé of the evening – one of his signatures, baby corn with chictana ant, coffee, and costeño chillies. Except, thanks to American customs officers, the ants never made it to Hong Kong. We filmed the process of making the dish for our Epicurean Express series, so watch out for it in the next week to see how you can make it at home.

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Among the highlights of the meal was a clean, sophisticated puck of thinly-sliced avocado sandwiching nutty and slightly gelatinous chia seeds, a bit of heat coming from aguachile (a blend of Serrano chillies and lime juice); a bean soup with an eclectic formation of root vegetables, nopales (cactus), queso fresco and tiny mint leaves was quintessentially Mexican in flavour, and surprisingly light and fresh.

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The mole madre (literally “the mother sauce”) wins awards as the most deceiving dish of the night – a simple puddle of a viscous, deep brown sauce peppered with white sesame seeds had incredible depth, the flavours dancing on the palate in a most peculiar way. One moment we got a whiff of smoke; the next, an almost berry-like sweetness. A lingering savoury character provided the base note.  Over 100 ingredients have lent their flavours to the sauce, which is close to a year old, explaining its unbeatable complexity – much like the Chiuchow equivalent of lo sui sauce.

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But the best part? After a casual conversation about that ubiquitous Mexican condiment, guacamole, chef Olvera invited us back to the kitchen to reveal his simple recipe for perfection: ripe avocados, Serrano chillies, salt, and coriander. No onion, no tomatoes, and only a splash of lime juice. Simplicity strikes again, with delicious results. 

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