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Mesamérica, Day Two: Collaboration, Tasting Menus, and Experimental Eggs

Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz
Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz

[Photos: Amy McKeever/Eater.com]

The second annual Mesamérica festival continued yesterday with slate of killer presentations from chefs and restaurateurs with innumerable plaudits among them. While Day One had passionate speeches from Carlo Petrini and Massimo Bottura and some news from the Franks out of Brooklyn, Day Two saw a lot of short films, innovative egg dishes, and a lot of conversation about the role of the entire team at a restaurant.

Mugaritz chef Andoni Luis Aduriz was the main event as the day's final presenter (with some excellent use of audience participation) and Iñaki Aizpitarte (Le Chateaubriand) and Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi) each gave some crazy egg-related demos. There were a number of American presenters up on stage, including Manresa chef David Kinch, A Life Worth Eating blogger Adam Goldberg, and the duo behind Eleven Madison Park, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara. Mexico, of course, was represented by Contramar's Gabriela Camara, Amaranta's Pablo Salas, Quintonil's Jorge Vallejo, Rosetta's Elena Reygadas and more. Here's day two:

The Americans

Chef David Kinch launched his presentation with a video about his Los Gatos, California, restaurant Manresa then dove right into making a couple of dishes using ingredients like boudin noir, squid ink, fried garlic chips, and deep-fried rice cubes. Though Enrique Olvera had previously told Kinch he was jealous of all the great access to produce he has in Northern California, Kinch said that the US can be jealous of Mexico's rich culinary tradition and regionalism.

Food blogger and world traveler Adam Goldberg of A Life Worth Eating was next up with an in-depth look at tasting menus, excess, and what makes for the perfect meal. He first recounted an overly heavy and long meal at Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenée in Paris that included beautiful and technically perfect dishes that he said confused quality with quantity. Goldberg was full of charts showcasing the calorie counts of his heavier and lighter tasting menu meals, as well as charts comparing the menu calorie counts of 20 of the World's 50 Best restaurants. He tracked them through the years to reveal that restaurants serving heavy dishes have perhaps seen their day. He also rolled out some clips from a video he's working on where the likes of Dan Barber, Dave Beran, Tom Colicchio, Joshua Skenes, Curtis Duffy, and Rick Bayless discuss excess and tasting menus:

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Goldberg interviewing Saison chef Joshua Skenes in the film clip.

Eleven Madison Park's Daniel Humm and Will Guidara hit the stage to talk about their partnership and how the culture of collaboration is the cornerstone of the three-Michelin-star New York restaurant. After a "first date" together at an Italian restaurant, Humm and Guidara said they decided that a great restaurant is not one that is merely chef-driven or restaurateur-driven, but it had to be both. And they wanted their whole team to know that the kitchen and dining room were united, taking breaks together where the staff could see them and making agreements not to fight in front of the team and, like an old married couple, never to go to bed angry. To further ingrain collaboration into the restaurant's psyche, Humm and Guidara implemented annual strategy meetings and, later, an ownership program that has resulted in a beer program designed by a busboy and about 30-40 of their employees having some part in running the restaurant. Humm also spoke about the restaurant's use of local products such as salt from Long Island, a supplier that Eleven Madison Park heavily invested in, even sending employees out to help collect saltwater as the supplier ramped up production.

The Women of Mexico City Represent

Gabriela Camara — owner of Mexico City's incredibly popular seafood restaurant Contramar — offered the perspective of a restaurateur. Hospitality, she said, is the industry of generosity. Though she doesn't believe the customer is always right, Camara pointed out that it doesn't do any good to be rude to a customer. Rather, she says, the customer does always deserve an explanation and to be treated well. Camara closed out her presentation with a slideshow of every single member of Contramar's team, all the way down to their valet guys because "if they're rude that's the beginning of the experience."

Mexico City's own Elena Reygadas of the Italian restaurant Rosetta explained that bread is in a period of crisis after years of abuse, disrespect and domination by large corporations. Fortunately, she said, "a few romantic people" such as herself have been endeavoring to recover that way of making bread. Making a profit is not the most important thing at the end of the day, she said, as the most important thing is professional satisfaction and human satisfaction. "Strive for the best," Reygadas urged the audience. She also screened a short and lovely video of the artisans at Panaderia baking everything from baguettes to pastries — which, if not inspiring audience members to get to baking, at very least probably left them wanting to eat those baked goods.

Insane Eggs

After briefly sharing his thoughts on the importance of being happy in a profession that is "intense and hard enough," Iñaki Aizpitarte provided one of the day's egg-related demonstrations of a burnt egg atop a macaron-like biscuit. Then, he and filmmaker Nanda Fernandez screened clips from a film of Aizpitarte's trip to Andalucia sharing that very same egg dish with everyone that he meets, including a big crowd that swells up around him on the streets:

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Iñaki Aizpitarte's journey to share eggs with the people.

Spain's three-Michelin-starred young chef Eneko Atxa (Azurmendi) demo'd some pretty neat dishes such as an egg stuffed with truffle oil and a custard made into an egg with a shell and all. Atxa also shared that his film director cousin is making a film about his creative process — interesting, he said, as she has a creative process herself to demonstrate his creative process — that they will present at Cinemania in San Sebastian this year. He is also working on a book.

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Eneko Atxa injected this egg with truffle liquid and it was kind of amazing.

The Finale

Not only is Andoni Luis Aduriz the chef of Spain's famed Mugaritz, but it turns out he is also the ideal person to close out a long day of demos and talks. The key? Audience participation and a little bit of trickery. Though unfortunately some of Mugaritz's best dishes of the 57 new dishes created this year are not suitable for taking to conferences, Aduriz walked the audience through his vegetable ravioli and grabbed some volunteers to come taste his "grapes" that are not actually grapes and the restaurant's macaron de caza. For the latter dish, Aduriz insisted that all of the volunteers must have "no cultural biases" and repeatedly asked the population of Blackberry Auditorium whether they were out for blood. Well, blood they got: After 10 volunteers sampled the Mugaritz macaron and were unable to identify anything other than the foie gras ganache, Aduriz revealed that the cookies were made of blood:

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Since all chefs have their own videos these days, Aduriz also screened a short film about the macaron "from the perspective of the old-time hunter" as played by one of the cooks in his kitchen. After blowing some minds with the graphic shots of a woman hunting and preparing food interspersed with the making of the macarons, Aduriz concluded with some thoughts on happiness: "Happiness is to want what you have."

Bits and Pieces

Noma's René Redzepi came into the auditorium while Humm and Guidara were speaking, his first public appearance so far at Mesamérica. The instant the lights went dim after the Eleven Madison Park crew's presentation, culinary students and others absolutely swarmed Redzepi.

Mexican chef Pablo Salas of Amaranta gave a talk and demo of pork and its preparations and then brought a really adorable pig on stage at the end.

Of the dishes passed into the audience during Day Two, one of the most memorable was the nopal (cactus) sherbet from Jorge Vallejo of Mexico City's hot year-old restaurant Quintonil.

It's worth noting that Mesamérica presenters from all three days include chefs and restaurateurs from 1 through 6 of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, plus numbers 14, 17 and 18.

· All Mesamérica Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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