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Event Tue Sep 17 2013

Mod Mex Fundaiser with Bayless, Stupak, Gaytan, & Vallejo at Kendall College

rsz_dsc_0493.jpgThe average eater of Mexican cuisine in America consumes enchiladas, burritos, or Doritos Locos tacos--with chips and guac, no less. But if you're eating Mexican food cooked by Alex Stupak (Empellón, NYC), Carlos Gaytan (Mexique, Chicago) and Jorge Vallejo (Quintonil, Mexico City), or Rick Bayless (Frontera, Chicago)--well, that's another Aztecan affair altogether.

Rarely can one see big-name chefs like Stupak and Bayless in the same room for more than an hour, so it was a real treat to attend Mod Mex, "a two-day program giving food enthusiasts a rare opportunity to explore, taste, and celebrate the evolution of Mexican cuisine." Event proceeds went to the full-tuition Frontera Scholarship, offered by the Kendall College Charitable Trust in partnership with Rick Bayless.

The Saturday event, which lasted from 9am until 3pm, felt like going to school again, but with booze and drooltastic delectables. Emceed by Peter Sagal, of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, each chef took turns describing and demonstrating his interpretation on Mexican cuisine. After ogling and salivating at the demonstrations, attendees sampled the dishes in a walk-around tasting at the end of the program. The four chefs were each assigned a specific ingredient category for their dish:

Bayless (VEGETABLE): Black and White Eggplant (fried eggplant, black bean broth, huitaloche, salsa negra, queso anejo)
• Oily but a good blast of umami for a vegetarian dish. The salsa negra carried a delicious smoky undertone.
• I've encountered Bayless rather frequently during these last few months--but I still get a glistening smile every time!

rsz_dsc_0530.jpgStupak (MASA): Sea Urchin Guacamole Empellon cocina-style w baked tamal crisps
Chorizo "Scotch" egg with corn masa "tempura" batter
• The fried scotch egg should be declared a new hangover remedy--savory, sweet, and greasy, it was literally a ball of awesome
• Guac just tasted sexier with sea urchin--Stupak says he "can make anything taste sexier." I dunno--I think durian would be a challenge.

rsz_dsc_0522.jpgGaytan (MEAT): Lamb belly huarache
• Fatty and spectacularly flavorful, just as lamb ought to be.
• Gaytan reminds me of Javier Bardem. In a good, sexy way--not a No-Country -for-Old-Men kind of way
• I asked Gaytan if he won Top Chef--my response? A Cheshire-cat smile.

rsz_dsc_0508.jpgVallejo (FISH): 15-ingredient smoked crab tostada (including radish, onion, scallion, seaweed powder, mayonnaise, chile de aqua, cilantro sprouts etc.)
• I loved the sweet crab, although I found the dish rather salty, and I really couldn't taste all 10+ ingredients

rsz_dsc_0536.jpg

Jordan Johnston-Frontera's mixologist (BOOZE): Levanta Muertos No. 2 (aka Corpse Reviver): Wahaka Espadin Joven mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Cointreau, lime, Pernod, cucumber

Despite deriving a great deal of pleasure from the tastings (and mezcal cocktails), I learned nothing profound from a foodie-perspective. I get tired of nodding enthusiastically at the same spiel about creativity, good ingredients, and delicious food. Between the booze, indulgent proteins and garnishes, and celebrity chefs, some people forget (or never really cared about) what the event supports or what they learned during the presentations.

Mod Mex in particular benefited the Kendall College Charitable Trust (KCCT), a non-profit that provides financial support for Kendall College students in the culinary, hospitality, business and education programs. For the 2012-2013 academic year, KCCT granted over $240,000 for 80 scholarship recipients --an average of $3,000 per student. But given that the full-tuition per quarter at Kendall is $5,326, students still pay for a decent chunk of their culinary education.

Now I'm not maligning these grants or fundraisers because let me just clarify: they do a fucking amazing job. Every bit helps, and frankly, not a lot of people help students in these brutally-tough industries. For instance, the national average salary for a line cook is roughly $30,485 (give and take a few variables), which is rather depressing for a college graduate standing 10+ hours a day in a hot kitchen.

salaires.PNGAnd it's not just domestic labor issues--for me, the complexities of Oaxacan mezcal raised the issue of sustainable agriculture in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Although the complexities of global agriculture generally overwhelm me, I believe that large, profit-driven agribusinesses do negatively impact farmers, the environment, and food security. But who the hell cares, right? I just Instagramed Rick Bayless!

Now, I don't strive to shit on people's parades, so I'll leave the facts and sermons for another day. And honestly, I had a fiesta fantástica at Mod Mex. I met four great chefs, interacted with cool Kendall students, and tasted delicious authentic cuisine.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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