By: Elsie Méndez
One of the reasons I love the gastronomy world is that it allows me to be close to the art, the creation, the feelings and the inspirations that are born in our spirits and are translated into dishes that allow us to have a full senses experience. Just like many of you out there, I dreamed to be a singer, to create music and I even got to think of painting or sculpting… I think the best thing I’ve done in that area is to write something that is yet a work in progress, and life had another plans to take me through different roads. Of course, I have no regrets and today, at the middle point of my life, I can achieve those dreams thanks to the world unfolding every day in the kitchen.
I write this foreword because what I’m about to tell you is the experience we lived of perfection in terms of art and sensitivity, in the road to get our 5 senses to absolute climax.
Martha Ortiz Chapa takes us on an ongoing surprisingly trip with every dish that comes to the table, and she masterly puts together the flavors, the colors and even de soft sound that some of the ingredients make in our mouths. She makes us feel our childhood with a traditional sweet and, without thinking about social status quo; she makes everyone to lick their fingers after each dish. And she manages to do that because of her education, growing up between art, music, history and stories of great characters that marked her life and, better yet, everything she has learned through his professional experience as a chef and as a writer.
As the Phoenix, Martha reborn from the ashes of the acclaimed Aguila y Sol, her first restaurant and, despite the setbacks and sufferings after she was forced to close down that place, she now shares with us what is her trademark: her love for this country translated into her new venue called Dulce Patria.
Behind every dish there’s a childhood memory, teenage dream or an adult reality. Every memory that makes her stronger and unbeatable is in her menu and, for those lucky enough to have her at the table while tasting this delicacies, it gets absolutely clear the way she manages to share every bit of her moments not by words only, but one bite at a time.
For those of us that know Martha’s cuisine, I’m glad to say that many of the favorite dishes are still on the menu of Dulce Patria. It’s important to say that every dish has a name with a story behind it, so nothing more nationalist to start this experience than the Mexican Guacamole, with pomegranate and Cotija cheese and accompanied with Multicolor Quesadillas, stuffed with the most traditional fillings as northern dry meat with asadero cheese, squash blossom with epazote and cheese with epazote. The size is just perfect for a starting dish.
The fresh waters are a fundamental part of Mexican gastronomy but, as always, Martha’s wits and care for traditions make a hibiscus water a whole new experience adding to it rose petals, or the horchata water with pine nuts; lemon with chia and the tamarind water with Serrano chili. Simple great!
For those who haven’t ever tasted the typical esquites (corn grains) from the street vendors, here you will find a version of it that you must have. The grain with epazote, sour cream, cheese, chili powder and lemon in a high glass made me think of the town plazas, fairs or a simple walk through Coyoacan eating these Mexican delights.
Mezcales, as it should be, can guarantee a good digestion, and for this purpose, Dulce Patria has a large menu from different types of agave and regions where this elixir is created in Mexico.
Then, a bouquet of squash blossoms with a toasted almond cream, poblano chili and turmeric soup. This is a definite favorite as a soup like this one is always a reminder of my home kitchen, specially in this rainy season that is the best one for growing squash blossoms.
One of the most emblematic dishes in Mexico is the mole and Martha presents it in one of its most original and authentic ways, making it everyday as it has been created for centuries. From toasting the chillis and blending them using the metate, she serves it with one of the most used meats in the viceregal times as the duck was a favorite along with turkey back in those days. As a finishing touch, she decorates it with a plantain crest and rice. Look at the picture for, as they say, it speaks more loudly than a thousand words.
Desserts are main characters and stars in Martha’s cuisine. Every dessert has a loving memory from her childhood and she shares them with us with dedication beyond you can imagine. The most famous in her menu is the Mamey Crème brûlée with Gold Leaf and Carnation Jelly. You may think this as an interpretation of a classic but the truth is, this was the dessert that Martha’s child nurse used to prepare for her when she was a little girl living in Oaxaca and, the chef told us, that she used to say that rose petals were very common and carnations were more elegant.
My family’s corn cake was unbeatable until I got to taste Martha’s, presented with chamomile flowers and a caramel halo: my personal favorite. Then, the ginger cookies with hot chocolate or atole are part of those sweet memories every Mexican kid has as part of his or her story. As if it wasn’t enough, at the end of the evening, Martha sends miniature candy delights from traditional candies such as the Milk candy, polvorones and tamarind sweets.
That is Dulce Patria. A walkthrough of memories for those who grew up among dishes prepared by our mothers and grandmothers with devotion and dedication. Dishes that are proudly part of Mexico’s traditions and regional cuisines.
I have to confess something and it is something from which I don’t have an rational explanation. Every time I’m with Martha sharing a table, the feelings emerge and, just as it happens in the movie Like Water for Chocolate, tears start rolling down my face thanks to every piece of childhood memory that comes to mind when I taste her dishes. So, to the teacher, the chef, the writer and, above all, the great friend Martha Ortiz Chapa is, here is my most sincere and profound gratitude for her everyday work in her kitchen to defend and keep our most authentic traditions alive.