Ingredients that are integral part of Mexican gastronomy. Picture: Jeff Siepman.

Acclaimed Mexican chef Alam Méndez Florián is in Gauteng this month to promote Mexican gastronomy, in association with The Embassy of Mexico to South Africa. The visit has been organised through the initiative of Ven A Comer and conjunction with the valuable support of the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation (Amexcid).

Chef Alam Méndez Florián at the Mexican Embassy. Picture: Jeff Siepman

Chef Méndez hosted and took part in various tasting events, including Mexican food tastings at a number of Johannesburg-based restaurants and cooking master classes at the Prue Leith Chefs Academy and the Capsicum Culinary Studio campus in Pretoria.

Nachos with house-made tortilla chips, guacamole, roasted corn, black beans, cheese sauce, pico de gallo, jalapeños, sour cream. Picture: Jeff Siepman 

With a gastronomy degree from the Culinary Institute of Mexico, AC. and currently in charge of the kitchen at the highly praised Pasillo de Humo Restaurant in Mexico City, Chef Méndez has extensive professional experience in both Mexico and abroad. His international recognition includes being a semi-finalist in the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2018 competition held earlier this year and placing first in the Young Promising Mexican Gastronomic contest held in Ribera del Duero in 2014.

Mexican food is based primarily on Mayan food with influences from the Caribbean, Central Mexican, European (especially French) and Middle Eastern cultures. As in other areas of Mexico, corn is the basic staple, as both a liquid and a solid food. Picture: Jeff Siepman

Good Food Mexico said recently of Pasillo de Humo, “It is an extraordinary Oaxacan ‘antojería’ under the baton of chef Alam Méndez who happens to be the son of Celía Florian, chef/owner of Oaxaca’s renowned 15 Letras. The “pasillo” which refers to the smoky passage in that city’s market where tasajo – dried beef – is grilled over wood-fired coals.

The beautifully decorated interior of Calexico. Picture: Jeff Siepman

The restaurant, which opens for breakfast as well as comida and cena, offers classic regional specialties such as crispy flat tlayudas, tamales, intriguing egg dishes served in polished clay cazuelas and of course, moles. I love the earthy verdant mole verde, aromatic with minty hoja santa. The best ingredients are imported from the south and the tortillas are made by hand.

A Negroni cocktail, made of one part gin, one part vermouth rosso, and one part Campari, garnished with orange peel. Picture: Jeff Siepman

The Mexican gastronomy tasting at Calexico included crispy flat tlayudas (a corn flatbread) with shredded beef, tomato puree, pickled cabbage, cotije (hard cow’s milk cheese) and coriander and a ceviche. According to Chef Alam, his inspiration with these two snacks, the aguachile and the istmeñas garnachas, came from the ease with which these dishes are prepared.