By: Carlos Dragonné y Elsie Méndez
La Condesa neighborhood has been trying to transform into the gastronomical epicenter of Mexico City. Projects like Merotoro, by chef Jair Tellez and other places are starting to take over and the culinary quality of this zone has been growing wider in options for those walking the streets. However, nothing is close to the recently opened place on Nuevo Leon street, a place that everyone has been waiting to arrive for many years. We are talking about Azul Condesa, the new restaurant by chef Ricardo Muñoz Zurita.
Since we arrived, that great service we enjoyed at Cafe Azul y Oro, the venue that Muñoz Zurita has turned into one of the best restaurants in Mexico and that you can find right in the middle of the National University Campus. Known for being a true academic and a researcher of the Mexican gastronomy, Ricardo now brings his menu into La Condesa, a menu recreated from the oral traditions he has rescued across the entire country. Therefore, many can be surprised with what the menu has to offer, as according to the chef himself “We serve those things you won’t find anywhere else”. This could be a very bold statement but looking at the first dish of the tasting they have ready for us -a Tlacotalpan Tamal- Ricardo promises and delivers a tour through what he calls as purist gastronomy, so the statement is not only bold, but true. Ricardo has nailed it again.
And it just that Azul Condesa has a menu worthy of admiration. Not only you will find those dishes that have been the signature of Café Azul y Oro for many years, but you can also enjoy what chef Muñoz has established as a recurrent theme with the gastronomical festivals, starting 2011 at Azul Condesa with the “Jarocha Soul” festival, during February and march in which you will be able to taste dishes from the local cuisine of Veracruz extraordinarily prepared. Of course, having the chef in our table, talking with us and even serving us some of the dishes, makes this tasting even more special. Let me tell you now something about Ricardo Muñoz. There is no other chef as committed as he is with the true national cuisine, as he has been researching and working with field investigation for more than 20 years, working to preserve and promote the real recipes of the regions he’s been to. Ricardo is truly passionate of the flavors of Mexican cuisine and the origins behind those flavors, which has made him publish an enormous variety of books gathering all he has discovered about indigenous and colonial gastronomy in an effort to leave a real legacy that can reach further generations. Of course, it hasn’t been an easy task, as he remembers “Twenty years ago, cooking Mexican cuisine was a death sentence if you were a chef, as this cuisine wasn’t thought to be part of the grand tables. Back then, what was being consumed and cooked was the French cuisine and so many others. For many years we left our kitchen to oblivion and we have lost many things”. To counteract this, Azul Condesa keeps alive the goal of doing his part into the developing of small Mexican producers that now are the main providers of those ingredients used in this kitchen.
The tasting was an adventure into many of the dishes of the current festival, including the Tumbada Rice, the delicious Empipianadas and the Mogo Mogo, a representation of the fusion of Veracruzean cuisine with the African influence brought by the immigrants of that continent who arrived centuries ago into Mexican shores. With each dish, Ricardo proved once again his wisdom and knowledge about Mexican cuisine, as we didn’t get to taste it without hearing where it was from, how it was created and how it has evolved into what is presented now in our table. Nonetheless, he was very clear about his cuisine being a simple recreation of those dishes, as he assured that there’s no reinterpretation or even creativity in his dishes, defined by himself as a truly purist menu without any changes from the original ones.
Talking with him and listening about the water chocolate we were closing the menu with, Ricardo tells us about how Salomé Álvarez and Gonzalo Serrano, invited him to be part of this project after they decided to close down Ligaya, their previous restaurant and turn the place around to create an emblematic venue in Condesa neighborhood. Then, he talks about his new editorial project, a Dictionary of Tabasco’s Cuisine a book that once again, proves his commitment with the promotion of regional gastronomy. In this book, Ricardo gathers more than 100 recipes that never before were published. Also the Director of Ambrosía Culinary Center, this cooking genius is aware of the urgent need to keeping the traditions alive for national products and the opportunities we have lost on the way, as well as many ingredients already extinct because of the lack of support to defend these treasures. He doesn’t stop when he starts talking about the projects that should be running already to promote and defend Mexican cuisine, and defines himself as a true believer that the effort shouldn’t be coming from one man, but from an integral project, a joint venture between government institutions, schools and private companies to develop a long term project to push forward this country. We agreed that this distinction of Mexican cuisine as Intangible Heritage is not the goal but merely the beginning of something that can turn gastronomy into a sustainable project for social and economic development.
Ricardo stands up and walks back into his kitchen. He says goodbye asking us to return and tell everyone about what he is doing now in Azul Condesa and, seeing him disappear through those doors, one can only be thankful for the opportunity of tasting what will come from that eager for knowledge mind that goes around discovering and rediscovering flavors in the must unthinkable corners of Mexico. For years, due to his books and countless awards, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita has been known in the gastronomical world as “His Majesty”. And, as we drive through the city, still remembering those unique and authentic flavors, it’s impossible not to make a mental note that reminds me that, next time we are face to face, I will not forget to vow.