Last week I provided a link to a short blog post that I authored for Food & Wine's blog Mouthing Off about a Mayan feast that I was able to attend courtesy of the magazine. As promised, below is a more fully elaborated version of that post, complete with professional photos taken by photographer Mike Shane. Thanks to Marzi Alavi, the event's publicist, for providing the photos!
My position as the magazine’s food intern comes with a lot of perks. These include: daily visits to the Test Kitchen to partake of the unfailingly delicious results of our chefs’ recipe testing; the duty of requesting (and, subsequently, sampling) all manner of delicious new food offerings from purveyors all over the country; the occasional free bottle of wine left over from our wine editors’ rigorous taste tests; and the privilege of attending fancy food media events such as F&W’s recent Best New Chefs Gala at City Winery. On Tuesday night, I was a guest at the Archaeological Institute of America’s 130th Anniversary Gala held at the grand Chinatown event space Capitale. The dinner honored Harrison Ford, whose famous role in the Indiana Jones movie franchise, archaeologists at the event explained, inspired countless young men and women to join the field. Taking his inspiration from the exotic locales shown in the films, Capitale’s executive chef Jason Munger created a Mayan feast to celebrate the AIA, consulting with Maya food archeologist Patricio Balona in order to ensure the meal’s authenticity. As someone who has traveled extensively through Mexico and thoroughly savored all that I ate there, I was excited to get a taste of the ancient foods that are the foundation for the country’s modern-day eats.
And what, exactly, would those foods be? When I mentioned to friends that I would be attending a Mayan feast, a lot of them joked that I would be eating corn, corn, and more corn. I shrugged off what I assumed was a fairly myopic stereotype, but, as it turns out, my buddies’ assumptions weren’t that far off from the truth. In fact, corn was central to Mayan religion, accounting, even, for the creation of man. Mayans believed in maize gods who shed their blood and mixed it with corn flour to make humans. In light of this information, it doesn’t come as a surprise that corn figures largely in traditional Mayan cuisine. The first course served at the AIA gala, a seared corn cake topped with sweet potato puree, roasted duck and tomatillo salsa, paid tribute to the holy grain:
The other Mayan delicacies that I enjoyed included roasted feral pork with a poblano tomatillo sauce and jicama, yucca and calabasa:
And, for a sweet ending, a Mayan banana split. This south-of-the-border reworking of the classic featured soft, sweet fried plantains topped with three different sorbets--creamy coconut, spiced pumpkin and lush avocado--and was finished with crispy plantain chips:
Heaven-sent treats, to be sure.