By: Carlos Dragonné
The Condesa neighborhood has started to become the center of the culinary culture in Mexico City. Proposals such as Merotoro, Jair Tellez and other places that are positioning, have increased the culinary quality of the area and, therefore, the range of options for those who walk through its streets in search of a good place to eat. However, nothing like what a few days ago was inaugurated on the street of Nuevo Leon and that gives the Condesa a place that, years before, should have arrived. We are refering to Azul Condesa, Chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita´s new restaurant.
Since our arrival we discovered that service that has always characterized Azul y Oro, the restaurant that Muñoz Zurita has positioned as one of the best in Mexico, located in Ciudad Universitaria, hence the name. Known for being an academic chef and field researcher who has brought the flavors of traditional Mexican cuisine to its palates, Ricardo is now associated to export his menu to La Condesa, a menu created from what, for years, this chef has rescued from the oral gastronomic traditions of the entire Mexican Republic, so the menu can surprise many with its offer since, in the words of Ricardo himself: “Here we serve what nobody else serves”. And it might seem too strong of a statement, but when the first dish of this tasting comes to the table, a tamal from Tlacotalpan with which the chef promises a tour of purist gastronomy, one cannot help but believe that Muñoz Zurita has hit the jackpot one more time.
And it is that Azul Condesa has a menu worthy of admiration. Not only can you find all the dishes that have characterized Café Azul and Oro for years, but the chef’s proposal to hold intermittent gastronomic festivals continues, starting 2011 at Azul Condesa with the “Alma Jarocha” festival that will be held during February and March and where you can taste spectacular dishes. Of course, having Muñoz Zurita, open-hearted as always, smiling and, above all, with the endless accumulation of information on the gastronomic history of Mexico, makes the enjoyment of the dishes even more special. And let me be clear here. There is no cook in Mexico who is more committed to true national cuisine than Ricardo Muñoz, who for more than 20 years has dedicated himself to true field research, aware of the need to keep the recipes of all the regions he has visited, alive and permanent in this desire for knowledge and dissemination of true Mexican cuisine. Ricardo is passionate about the flavors of Mexico and its roots, which has led him to publish a huge number of books that accurately compile what has been done in indigenous and colonial kitchens to leave a legacy that allow the continuity of this kitchen. Of course it has not been easy, as he himself remembers “20 years ago talking about cooking real Mexican cuisine was condemning you to die of hunger, because it was not thought that this kitchen would reach the big tables.” At that time, what was consumed and what was cooked as an important gastronomy was French cuisine and many others, and for years we let our kitchen go by and we have lost a lot of what was done.” To counteract this, in Azul Condesa continues the mission of being part of the development of small producers of pure Mexican ingredients that now reach the palates of those who venture into the kitchen of this master.
The tasting that was served led us to some of the best dishes of the “Alma Jarocha” festival which included the Arroz a la Tumbada, the Empipianadas and the Mogo Mogo, a representation of the fusions of the cuisine from Veracruz with the African influence of the migrants from that continent who arrived at the coasts of that state. On each dish that came to the table, Ricardo demonstrated his wisdom and knowledge on the cuisine that he presents, because before serving us, he gave us a tour of the history behind the recipe, of those traditions from years ago that led to the creation of the dishes that today, as he confesses, only recreates in his kitchen, but does not reinterpret. Muñoz Zurita says that there is no reinterpretation or even creativity behind his dishes because it is a purist kitchen that does not leave room for modification.
After a while of talking with Ricardo Muñoz and after hearing the explanation on the chocolate with water that they served to us to close the afternoon, we learned about the origins of this project and how Salomé Álvarez and Gonzalo Serrano, who already felt the need of closing his Ligaya restaurant and giving the restaurant a new twist in all aspects, invited Muñoz Zurita to be part of this culinary project with which the Condesa neighborhood finally acquires an emblematic restaurant of Mexican cuisine. In the midst of such a pleasant conversation, we learned about the future publication of a Dictionary of the Cuisine of Tabasco in which, true to his custom and mission to leave a true gastronomic legacy, Ricardo is given the task of recreating more than 100 recipes unpublished from this state of the country. Director of the Gastronomic Center Ambrosia, this genius of the kitchen is aware of the need to keep the traditions and the attachment to national products and how we have missed golden opportunities losing ingredients day after day that were once considered a real treasure to our country. He does not stop when he begins to talk about the projects that should be done to spread and defend Mexican cuisine and is a faithful believer that the task of publishing and researching everything related to the subject should not be the effort of one man, but a comprehensive project that brings together government institutions, education and private initiative in a real long-term project that allows us to get out of the hole in which we find ourselves. We agree that not everything is the appointment of our kitchen as Intangible Cultural Heritage, but that there is more to do to convert gastronomy into an axis of economic and social development.
Ricardo gets up from the table to go into his kitchen. He says goodbye to us asking us to come back and tell everyone what he is doing now in Azul Condesa and, seeing him disappear through the door that leads to the kitchen, one cannot help but be grateful for having the opportunity to try again, the flavors that tireless and eager mind is continuing to discover in the most unthinkable corners that Mexico has yet to offer. For years and thanks to his books and multiple recognitions, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita has been known as “His Majesty” in the gastronomic world. And while one travels the city even with the memory of those so unique and authentic flavors, it is impossible not to say that, the next time we are face to face, I will not forget to make the respective reverence.
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