This past weekend, chef Enrique Olvera gathered his colleagues from all across Mexico in the historic town of San Miguel de Allende for Mesa Abierta, the second in a series of three events comprising this year's Mesamérica festival. Celebrated chefs such as Baja pioneer Benito Molina of Manzanilla, Elena Reygadas of Mexico City's beloved Rosetta, Chicago's own Rick Bayless, Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur in France, and more took over the kitchens at local restaurants for special evening dinners. Meanwhile, crowds came out to the Otomi Center on Saturday and Sunday for day-long picnics involving all kinds of slow-cooked meats, a pod of food trucks, vendors selling everything from cheese and pastries to fresh produce, and, of course, a seemingly endless supply of booze. Here now, the hangover observations:
1) Sitting in the Mexico City airport awaiting transportation to San Miguel, Neuquén chef Dante Ferrero kept looking at his cell phone. He turned to Eater and explained that he was just checking in on his cow. It was the first hint of things to come.
2) Enrique Olvera co-hosted a press lunch at the Hotel Matilda's restaurant Moxi, where he has designed the menu.
3) Spirit-makers Casa Dragones sponsored a tequila-fueled kickoff cocktail party featuring the stylings of none other than PDT's Jim Meehan, who also provided drinks for Day One of the picnic and demo'd a spicy ginger-grapefruit-tequila cocktail with Olvera.
4) Americans, sighted: Drinks wizard Craig Schoettler of Aria in Las Vegas; Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo of Frankies Spuntino in New Yorkfresh off their appearance on the Tonight Show; Jim Meehan of PDT; Rick Bayless, Chicago's finest; assorted journalists and PR professionals.
5) Also, Noma co-founder Mads Refslund of New York's Acme created his own take on a tostada with tuna sashimi and smoked avocado on his more cracker-like version of a tortilla.
6) Barbacoa abounded: Not only did Monterrey-based chef Dante Ferrero roast some goat meat for lunch on Saturday, but he also started slow-cooking an entire cow that he brought with him to be served on Sunday. This is naturally where you could find a lot of chefs gathered, including Olvera and the Frankies.
7) Chef Édgar Núñez of Sud 777 brought his food truck Barra Vieja all the way from Mexico City (about 170 miles southeast of San Miguel) to feed the masses tostadas, tacos, ceviche, and more. The line for this truck got to be rather insane, but worth the wait. Other food trucks included one hawking burgers and fries and a giant drinks station getting everyone liquored up.
8) Picnickers could supplement their meat and taco-heavy offerings with pastries, cheese, wine, jams, Israeli dishes, fresh produce, coffee and more from the marketplace, which also contained the Mesa Abierta bar and a vendor selling hats that were quite necessary to fend off the sun.
9) Friday night's dinner schedule: Quintonil chef Jorge Vallejo at Calenda Restaurant & Bar; the Frankies at The Restaurant; Amaranta chef Pablo Salas at Hacienda de Guadalupe; and Manzanilla chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris at Cumpanio. Cumpanio, it should be noted, also has a sister bakery next door that smelled insanely good and provided some pastries for the picnic on Saturday as well.
10) Vallejo told Eater that his dinner was intended to recreate the Quintonil experience as much as possible for diners coming into San Miguel de Allende from all over Mexico (some driving in three hours or more just to get a seat at one of these dinners). This includes dishes such as Quintonil's chilacayotes, a type of squash served with mole, charred tortilla, and basil. Quintonil is also celebrating its second anniversary this month and is taking advantage of Mirazur chef Mauro Colagreco's visit to Mesa Abierta by having him cook a dinner in Mexico City tonight.
11) Saturday night's dinner schedule: Mirazur chef Mauro Colagreco at MOXI; Topolobampo and Frontera Grill chef Rick Bayless at 1826 Restaurant; and Rosetta chef Elena Reygadas at Patio 3. Reygadas told Eater that she doesn't normally like to do a tasting menu — Rosetta is all a la carte — but these dinners were all six-course menus, so she took a bit of a lighter approach. "It's very important how you feel after you eat," she said. And, indeed, her dinner was both light and delicious.
12) For a little while on Saturday, it very nearly looked like there were going to be hot air balloon rides, but alas, the balloon was later deflated. Fortunately, there were still bouncy and Angry Birds-related games for children next to the Moet champagne lounge, clowns wandering around on stilts, and a petting zoo featuring chickens, bees, and a goat. Oh, yes, and there was a lone cow hanging out in a pasture, not to be confused with the cow that was being roasted nearby. This cow was a major photo opp.
13) At the end of each day of picnicking — with entertainment provided by live bands and DJs — Mesa Abierta screened films, including the 2012 film Canela. Though for most of the day it was a little too hot to sit outside on the picnic blankets arranged on the lawn, it cooled down by evening. Fortunately, there were plenty of tents for festival-goers to take refuge from the sun in during the day.
14) There was also a short series of lectures each day, including coffee and wine tastings and talks from chefs Jorge Vallejo and Pablo Salas, who demo'd the uses of bull penis.
Mesamérica continues in May with a not-yet-fully-revealed lineup that includes Mario Batali, Danny Bowien, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, Alice Waters, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi director David Gelb. And do stay tuned in the weeks to come for interviews with a few of the chefs who participated in Mesa Abierta, including Rosetta's Elena Reygadas on how bakeries are building neighborhoods in Mexico City and Jorge Vallejo on the second year of his acclaimed restaurant Quintonil.