The It-ingredient is front and center at Lorea, Oswaldo Oliva's new Mexico City restaurant.
The Mexican chef on everyone’s lips right now? Oswaldo Oliva, of Lorea in Mexico City. After staging and cooking at Spain’s fine-dining institutions—El Celler de Can Roca, Mugaritz—Oliva never thought he would return to his hometown. He had the best job in the world doing research and development at Mugaritz, Andoni Luis Aduriz’s modernist temple. It was demanding. It was creative. It was the kind of job he couldn’t find in Mexico when he first finished culinary school. But four years ago, a whirlwind trip with Aduriz to Mexico City set him on a new path. “I ate at incredible fine-dining restaurants and taco stands,” says Oliva. “The city had changed. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and when an idea gets in your head, it starts eating away at everything.”
A year later, he moved back to Mexico City with a vision for a new restaurant, where the menu changed every night, the kitchen wasn’t powered by stagiaires, and the staff got two days off each week. “We had to challenge all preconceived ideas of the restaurant,” says Oliva. “We had to invent our own rules.”
That flip-the-script ethos extends to the plate at Lorea, which opened last year. Take the restaurant’s signature huitlacoche dish. Oliva found a grower who inoculates corn with the fungus, turning the whole cob black. Instead of using the kernels as a filling for quesadillas, he spotlights their mushroomy flavor by simply simmering the cobs in broth and slathering them with butter. “I don’t consider my apprenticeship finished,” says Oliva. “If I keep my menu the same for a year, I’m not learning. This keeps me dynamic.”
Oliva shares the ingredients that constantly inspire him at Lorea.
Huitlacoche : “This corn-cob fungus typically is cooked in stews or quesadillas, but I prefer to poach the sweet, slightly bitter ingredient as simply as possible and then butter it. It’s amazing.”
Fava Beans: “We see these spring-time peas in early February. I pickle them right away so we can use them in the coming months. I love their texture and acidity once pickled—they become tangy and tart.”
Mamey: “Creamy and with a seed that has a nutty, almond-like aroma, this indigenous fruit is usually whirled into milkshakes, but I love it grilled and dressed with hazelnut oil.”