26 Sep Kindling the spirit of Mexico
“Are you willing to give eating insects a try?” asked the email from Kitchen Theory, the organisers of a multi-sensory event in celebration of modern Mexican cuisine. I summed up the courage, and ticked the box.
Despite having travelled the world, I have never consciously eaten an insect, apart from the odd greenfly on a salad. My son ate a live, juicily big white bug in the Amazon, but for me it was no way José.
Why it’s good to eat insects
Entomophagy, or the eating of insects, is not new. As Kitchen Theory says: Insects “are nutritious, sustainable, low emissions, low set up cost to farm, use less resources (water, feed etc) than animal farming and less processing once ready for consumption.”
Arriving at the pop-up dining experience on the Ladbroke Grove fringes of Maida Vale, we were greeted by ornamental skulls (a leitmotif of fashion designer Alexander McQueen), candles & a raft of Mexican street art on the walls, as well as by our hosts Jozef and Lulu Youssef, founders of Kitchen Theory.
After a Mezcal cocktail, we slowly worked through the 7-courses of Mexican discovery put together by Jozef, who among several culinary meccas has worked at the Fat Duck, Britain’s temple to innovative cuisine, and each with an introduction by Lulu.
One of 2 UNESCO listed cuisines
Mexican cuisine is steeped in history and culture. Its world heritage is recognised by being the only cuisine listed by UNESCO, together with traditional French cuisine.
It’s more than the ‘holy trinity’ of corn, beans and chilli. New ingredients for me were the health-giving prickly pear cactus, or nopal, as it’s called in Mexican Spanish, & very popular in street food; the herb epazote, or Jesuit’s tea; chapulin colorado (red grasshopper); ant salt rimming the glasses of Mezcal; and ‘Mexican spiced worm‘ (nicely ground and indistinguishable).
Jozef spent 6 weeks researching Mexican cuisine before creating his recipes. The influence of street art & street food, together with Mexican dance, in particular the Deer Dance, coursed throughout the evening, as well as the many Mexican legends & mythologies, not least about Mezcal and the God of Redemption.
We were also encouraged to eat with our fingers; all the better for tasting, we were told.
Another place on the travel list: Oaxaca, southeast of Mexico City, and the gastronomic mecca of Mexico.