By Olivier Reneau, photos : Araceli Paz, Alejandro Tovilla
Mexican chef Enrique Olvera has made mole the iconic colour of his culinary palette, as well as a springboard for experimentation with taste and time.
The plate holds two conspicuous, concentric discs: one orange, in the centre, the other brown. Like an abstract geometric figure. It is in this rather unadorned fashion that Mexican chef Enrique Olvera serves mole, with a side of tortillas for dipping. This sauce is emblematic of Mexican cuisine and, as a result of the chef’s research, has become a fundamental dish in his culinary creations, an assemblage of essentials blending both Baroque influences and a great complexity of flavours, perfectly expressing the foundations of Mexican cuisine that are the pillars of Olvera’s preparations.
© Alejandro Tovilla
A half-dozen years ago, Enrique Olvera, a chef trained at New York’s Culinary Institute of America and making the ranks of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2012, was awakened to the power of the culinary heritage at his disposal. Thus it is that, today, he is spearheading the Mexican “nouvelle cuisine” that relies on history to better forge a contemporary culinary identity. But what is most remarkable is that Olvera has chosen to craft this mixture of chilli, cocoa, sesame, peanuts, tomatoes and spices – of which there are as many interpretations as there are regional or family traditions – in a way that has evolved with time. Rather than following a single recipe each morning, he starts with a base left over from the day before, to which he adds the seasonal products available, never in exactly the same combination. This means that, in the end, this Mole Madre, as he calls it, has had dozens of different ingredients added to it since he decided to embark on this project. To date, that’s nearly 1,400 days of uninterrupted cooking with fresh products added to the existing base, giving the blend lively and slightly different character each day.
Thus it is that, today, he is spearheading the Mexican “nouvelle cuisine” that relies on history to better forge a contemporary culinary identity.
This principle is similar in many ways to the solera process used in certain winemaking, especially in sherry production in Spain. The casks are stacked in a pyramid: those containing the oldest wines form the base. When a fraction of the wine is taken from the oldest barrels (the saca process), the younger wines replenish the lower barrels and mingle with the older elixirs. This system tends to create a homogeneous taste over time, little impacted by variations in harvest yields. For Olvera, this “Heron’s fountain” principle in mole is more a reflection of a life that evolves with the passing of the seasons and an endless variety of circumstances.