World-renowned Mexican chef Enrique Olvera has a way with corn. At Pujol, his essential tasting menu destination in Mexico City, the taco program hinges on housemade tortillas. By far the most buzzed-about dish at his first New York City restaurant, Cosme, is a dessert that combines a corn mousse and a husk meringue, leading Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton calling Olvera “the corn whisperer.” And now, in Mexico City, his long practice of milling masa and making tortillas takes on a new life at Molino el Pujol, a tortilleria that will both continue to provide tortillas to his restaurant as well as offer its own corn-based menu when it opens to the public on Friday.
“It’s completely different from anything we’ve ever done before,” Olvera says of the singular culinary focus at Molino el Pujol. The menu will feature tortillas and tacos, of course, but also a masa tamal filled with poblano pepper rajas and raisins, cooked in a corn leaf as well as a spiffy take on elote, the corn cob dressed here with chicatana ant, coffee, and costeño chili. Corn also finds its way into the beverages, as in the agua de maiz, an agua fresca with corn and meyer lemon, and a warm atole made from white corn and a dose of caffeine, courtesy of a shot of café de olla. Beans baked in clay pots are the only dishes on the menu without corn.
The opening comes at a busy time for Olvera. The chef just opened the books for Casa Teo, a small combination inn and culinary workshop that’s now taking reservations via Airbnb. Meanwhile, he’s continuing work on his first Los Angeles restaurant, a Pujol-Cosme hybrid that will also feature a to-go taco window when it opens. And even though it might feel like the chef is simply on an expansion tear — which, yes, he is — Olvera has been plotting a tortilleria for years: He even considered building one in Brooklyn. But once Pujol relocated to its new, larger digs last year, the chef realized the need to have a dedicated tortilla production program in Mexico City.
There’s also an educational element to his work at Molino el Pujol. “By making tortillas, we’re trying to communicate culture,” he says. Tortillas will come wrapped in what Olvera’s calling newspapers, which will be printed with illustrations, information about corn, and articles about corn from writers Olvera taps for collaborations. “It will help us transmit what’s happening in the world of corn,” he hopes.
Olvera and his team’s tortillas have, at this point, become some of the most famous in the world. “I think that best tortillas are the ones you’ve made a long time. We’ve been making from scratch at Pujol for eight years,” he says. But above all, he credits the corn itself, the different varieties provided by the small farmers he cites as curators. “We approach it kernel by kernel,” he explains. “We’re working almost like a coffee roaster, but in a tortilla setting.”
The vibe also borrows from the coffee world. Olvera explains that there will be only a few seats — maybe six stools — and that it’s meant to be more of a quick stop. “It’s more like a coffee shop, where you might grab a tamal on the go before going into the office. You can sit down, but that’s not the nature of the place.” The colors are meant to evoke corn, while the decor will complement the Condesa neighborhood building’s art deco architecture.
“We’re taking it seriously, even though it’s casual,” Olvera says. “We’re trying to create culture and community. Of course, in Pujol, we charge for it, and it’s limited to 90 to 120 people. Here, because it’s more open and literally you can walk in, we’ll be able to have a broader audience.”
And to the chef, as his empire grows, the intense focus of Molino el Pujol is “almost a utopia.” “That idea of craftsmanship and attention to detail and recognition of the ingredient source and producer, and working on one thing; it’s literally a luxury,” he says. “Not everyone can do this.”