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René Redzepi Surprises Mesamérica on Its Opening Day

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Photo: Amy McKeever/Eater

The first day of the third annual Mesamérica conference in Mexico City closed out with a surprise guest and a pretty amazing moment of humanity. René Redzepi, fresh off regaining Noma's title as #1 on the World's 50 Best list, came out onstage in a lucha libre mask for the last presentation of the evening. Unmasked by Enrique Olvera, Redzepi proceeded to announce his second surprise: that he was in Mexico City to award two local culinary students scholarships for all-expenses-paid trips to Copenhagen to attend MAD4 and stage for one month at Noma.

Of course, there was a catch. Six top students recommended by their schools would have to compete against one another in a cooking competition, Redzepi explained. The challenge? Prepare a country French omelette just as Jacques Pépin did in his famous demonstration, which was then screened. The students had seven and a half minutes, as timed by the length of one Metallica song. "This is a lot," Redzepi said. "So we allowed you to fuck it up a few times."

And if it wasn't intimidating enough to have René Redzepi watching you prepare an omelette under a time restriction, Redzepi invited onstage his fellow judges: Alice Waters, Danny Bowien, and Enrique Olvera. "Are you not nervous?" Redzepi asked. "I'm super nervous." And the competition began, while Waters watched looking delighted and Bowien took pictures of the students on his phone.

[Photo: John Sconzo]

But only three of the students completed an omelette in the seven and a half minutes. As it turns out, it was the first attempt at an omelette for all six of them. Olvera pointed out that, here in Mexico, "it's huevos rancheros." The three students who hadn't completed their omelettes held back tears as the auditorium applauded sympathetically and the judges conferred.

When Redzepi re-took the stage, he had another announcement: As planned, two students would come stage at Noma. But Waters had offered to take on two more at Chez Panisse. Bowien would bring one to Mission Cantina. And Olvera would bring the last of the six students to his soon-to-open Cosme in New York City. It was a move that surprised even Mesamérica director Sasha Correa, who told Eater that this was not part of the plan. Alice Waters, forever and always a hero.

[Photo: Amy McKeever/Eater]

Check back in later for a full recap of Day 1 at Mesamérica.

· All Mesamérica Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All René Redzepi Coverage on Eater [-E-]