Commitment is about doing whatever it takes.—Anonymous

Mexican chefs demo enticing spicing

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Ikram Putra

Try to imagine Mexico and Indonesia sharing something in common. Confusing? At first glance it is easy to point out how the two countries are different.

But reconsider the point. These two countries, separated by some tens of thousands of miles and with no historical connection whatsoever, do have something in common, and it all begins with Capsicum, the genus of all pepper plants.

Sergio Snyder, a 76-year-old Mexican master chef, said Indonesians and Mexicans share the same palate when it came to good food.

During a Monday press conference at the Nikko Hotel in Jakarta, Snyder told journalists people in both countries are devoted to hot and spicy food. In most dishes in both countries — consider balado (spicy tomato sauce), rendang (meat cooked in coconut milk), or nachos — “we always find chillies playing an important role in the ingredients”.

“It’s not surprising at all,” Sergio said about the similar preferences in flavoring.

Just as people who live in temperate climates have a habit of enjoying ice cream during the winter, he said, people in tropical zones tend “to eat spicy food to keep their body temperature level with the outdoors.”

Chef Snyder and his colleague, master chef Roberto Treves Kaspi, are back in town to show off their culinary skills at the Mexican Food Fiesta, which runs through this weekend. The cooking pair first visited in the middle of last year.

The Nikko Hotel is once again the host of the fiesta, which is supported by the Mexican Embassy in Jakarta as well. Mexican Ambassador Melba Pria also attended the Monday press conference.

The two chefs, seasoned travelers with 82 countries under their belt, are back to once again serve Jakartans authentic Mexican food. They use original ingredients and “cook the food the same way they do in Mexico”, Roberto said.

“So no substitutions,” Sergio added.

At the fiesta they have been serving up, among others, chicken in mole poblano, which is chicken cooked in a thick sauce made of four kinds of dried chilies ground with cocoa, almonds and spices.

They also served chicken tlalpeño soup, prawns Maya, fish Veracruzana, and chile con carne besides the requisite classics: tacos, nachos and fajitas.

The chefs fulfilled their promise when they gave journalists the chance to savor fajitas in their authentic wrapping.

“Normally we don’t use deep-fried tortillas (a flat bread made from corn or wheat). We usually use the soft ones.”

But the problem with using soft tortillas was, Sergio said, that the food would get cold too quickly. “That’s why some people have started to use deep-fried tortillas instead, which actually is no problem.”

Chef Snyder, who graduated from Instituto Gastronomico Jalisco in Mexico City, offered up his theory on why Mexican food is so widely known around the world.

Mexicans, just like the Chinese, excel in cooking. “They built their Great Wall to prevent people coming into China. Like the Chinese, we had a desert and jungles blocking our way for about three thousand years.

“The more Mexicans cooked the same food over and over, the more they perfected their cuisine.”

Both Sergio and Roberto believe it takes more than perfect ingredients to make a great dish. In their experience the most important element is memory.

“No matter where you go, people consider the food made by their mother or wife as the best, simply because they instill in their memories the taste of food made with love.”

#The Jakarta Post’s “On the Town”.

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