Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Mexican chef, 25, only woman in international gastronomic competition

A 25-year-old chef from Guadalajara, Jalisco, will represent Mexico on the world stage as the only female competitor in the Grand Finale of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition.

Cynthia Xrysw Ruelas Díaz, sous chef at the Xokol restaurant in Guadalajara, qualified for the event to be held in Milan, Italy, on May 8 and 9 by winning the Latin America regional final last September. She will now compete against chefs from 11 other regions of the world for the title of Young Chef 2020.

Ruelas, who goes by her second name Xrysw (which means piece of gold in Greek), won the Latin America final with her signature dish Milpa y Mar (Cornfield and Sea) – native lisa fish wrapped in lengua de vaca (a wild Mexican herb) and served with blue-corn tortillas, a fish broth and native corn.

An emulsion made of red, yellow and black chiles, Mexican dark chocolate, agave lechuguilla vinegar and lisa roe accompanies the dish.

Almost six months after wowing the judges at the regional final in Lima, Peru, and just two months shy of jetting off to Italy for the grand finale, Ruelas spoke to the newspaper Milenio about her love of cooking and what inspires her in the kitchen.

Ruelas' signature dish, Milpa y Mar.
Ruelas’ signature dish, Milpa y Mar.

The chef said that her interest in pursuing cooking as a career began when she was 17 but that her life has always been intertwined with food because her family made and sold tacos and tamales.

“I was going to study medicine but I realized that I didn’t want that. I think that gastronomy is a science, it’s artistic and [requires] a lot of research. That’s what attracted my attention. It’s a career in which a lot of things have an influence, not just one,” Ruelas said.

She explained that before she started working at Xokol, she worked at Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone’s cruise ship restaurant, Share. “It was there that I realized that [being a chef] is what I wanted to do,” Ruelas said.

The young chef said that she finds inspiration from the cooking “techniques of our ancestors,” explaining that she and her colleagues at Xokol like to research traditional cooking methods and dishes from different parts of the country.

“We don’t copy the dishes as they are,” Ruelas said, adding that she and her fellow chefs instead reinvent the recipes that were first developed in Mexico many years ago.

She described cooking Mexican cuisine as a search for her identity as a cocinera tapatía – a chef who is native to Guadalajara.

“Food from the center of the country, from Puebla, Oaxaca and even Yucatán, is always spoken about but I think food from Jalisco has been forgotten,” Ruelas said.

“Whenever you ask about typical food from Jalisco, people always speak about Guadalajara; we have birria [a stew traditionally made from goat or mutton], carne en su jugo [another stew – literally meat in its juice] and the torta ahogada [a pork sandwich ‘drowned’ in chili sauce]. We don’t know more [dishes] but we have more than 100 municipalities and each one has something,” she said.

Asked about where the idea for her Milpa y Mar dish came from, Ruelas responded:

“I was inspired by what was the role of the man and the woman, the interaction they had and the harmony … with the environment. The man was always in charge of hunting and fishing. The woman took care of the cornfield and cooking.”

She added that her signature dish is sustainable because lisa, a fish from the mullet family, is not highly-valued in Mexico and she uses all of its different parts.

Ruelas described her experience to date in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition as a “very significant professional challenge,” explaining that she had to prove her own capabilities to herself.

She also said that she has had to face claims that it was her mentor, Alcalde restaurant’s Francisco Ruano, or her partner and fellow Xokol chef, Óscar Segundo, who really invented Milpa y Mar.

“Those comments affect you. … I obviously had their support but the ideas are mine and having won [the Latin America final] is a great satisfaction.”

Source: Milenio (sp) 

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