On the main stage of the Long Center, 38 tables were adorned with towers of white lilies, calla lilies and white roses that played backdrop to a succession of beautiful and flavorful courses.
Austin played host to one of only a handful of Sabores Auténticos de México black-tie galas. This year being the Bicentennial of Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Authentic Flavors of Mexico tour features the best of Mexican cooking, past and present. The food incorporates pre-Colombian (Mayan and Aztec elements), Spanish colonial and modern interpretations of traditional foods.
With the sponsorship of the nonprofit MexNet Alliance under President Monica Peraza, the Honorable Rosalba Ojeda, Consul General of Mexico in Austin, and Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long, Austin rose to the occasion with a host of master chefs presenting the flavors of Mexico.
The evening began with a reception in the Long Center’s Kodosky Lounge, where guests could meet celebrated cookbook author Diana Kennedy. Kennedy has been a tireless supporter of the beauty and richness of Mexican Cuisine for 30 years and has written eight books on the subject, her latest being Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy.
The opening course was a ceviche of snapper, and the fact that nearly 400 martini glasses filled with lime-scented snapper, tomatoes, onions, avocado and cilantro could be served that fresh seemed just short of a magic trick. I was embarrassed to finish just as someone was about to ask if I liked it.
The ceviche was served with a crisp 2009 Chenin Blanc from L.A. Cetto. The wine had just the perfect amount of acid and a bit of smokiness to enhance the fish.
After a short break that allowed the elegant crowd to socialize, an army of wait staff brought out plates with an array of meats, each topped with a traditional mole (sauce).
The grilled venison was topped with a mole amarillo and the tender pan seared duck breast had a coastal version of traditional mole with red coastal chilies, pasilla chilies, guajillos, oja santa and Oaxacan chocolate. The quail breast was paired with a bright green mole verde, traditionally made with green tomatoes, scallions, and parsley. As with the other moles, there’s a multitude of herbs and spices complimenting the ingredients.
In addition to the meats, our plates were graced with a tamal that had been elevated to fine cuisine by the addition of huitlacoche. A mushroom-like growth found on corn, huitlacoche has a woody, savory quality that, paired with the corn masa and spices, was delicious.
The huitlacoche elevates a dish in such a way that, in the 1980’s, pioneer foodie James Beard called it the “Mexican truffle.” The entrée was overseen by chefs Miguel Ravago and Jeff Martinez, of Fonda San Miguel fame, and Chef David Garrido, known from his stewardship at Jefferies and Garrido’s. The entrée was paired with a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, again by L.A. Cetto. It was smooth and elegant and a great pairing to the complex flavors on the various meats.
Our meal ended with a selection of delectable desserts, including a rich, traditional vanilla crème brulée from David Cabrera of Fonda San Miguel, and a spicy, silky chocolate cinnamon crunch cake from Rebecca Rather of The Pastry Queen book series.
The two sweet stand-outs for me were the picture-perfect little pies made with a guava filling and a smooth base of cream cheese, based on a family recipe from Karla Hermida, who is opening her own company, Mondragon’s Pies, and a delicious cinnamon-scented polvorone (Mexican wedding cookie) wrapped in delicate paper, like old fashioned candies made by Lydia Hock of Lydia Hock-Catering & Affairs.
With a beautifully orchestrated evening, Sabores Auténticos de México successfully highlighted the sophistication and depth of Mexican cuisine and culture behind it.
Whether reminiscent of meals of homemade moles at abuelita’s table or memories of fine meals from exotic vacations, all present could appreciate the artistry, excellence of skill and most of all history that went into our meal.