Food Travel America

Origen discovered

After my incredible day with Chef Alejandro Ruiz, I was worried that my remaining meals in Oaxaca wouldn’t / couldn’t compare. I mentioned to Alejandro that I only had a couple of dinners left in Oaxaca and I was thinking about Pitiona or Origen. I was hoping that he’d give a hint as to which of the 2 I should choose, but he told me that both great places and “must eats” in Oaxaca. Looking back now, and knowing his friendship with both chefs, I understand why he didn’t tell me one over the other.

Pitiona was on my list before I got to Oaxaca, but after spending time with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos the day before, I felt like it would be wrong not to have dinner at Origen as well. My group in Oaxaca gave me final say in my last few meals in Oaxaca, and true to Susy fashion… I chose both!

So on the evening after my mega awesome day with Chef Alejandro in the Origen kitchen, we returned to Origen to dine on a meal by another leading chef in Oaxaca.

"Oaxaca Origen outside"

Oaxaca Origen

"Oaxaca Origen space"

I enjoyed peering through the window into the kitchen to see Chef Rodolfo Castellanos in action. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but after my trip to the East Coast a few months ago, it seemed like I went to a lot of restaurants bearing chef’s names and while the meals have been great, I’m always left to wonder if it would have/could have been better if that particular chef would have been in the building.

Rodolfo Castellanos Origen Oaxaca kitchen

The menu was the most exciting I’ve seen so far in Oaxaca and I had no problem finding things I wanted to eat. Truth be told, everything looked good and it was hard to narrow the choices down.

I was a bit concerned because the mood of my group before we arrived at Origen wasn’t great and I wondered how they’d take to “having another meal out”. It was a worst case situation for a food lover like me, where the food could be fantastic, but because people weren’t in the right frame of mind, they might think less of the dinner.

Luckily the food started hitting the table and we all started marvelling at the beauty of the dishes.

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolpho Castellanos beets"

Ensalada de betabel – beet salad, ricardi goat cheese foam, watercress, hazelnuts and beet granite.

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolpho Castellanos pulpo"

Ensalada de pulpo a la brasa – grilled octopus salad, wild herbs, purslane and avocado.

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolpho Castellanos soup"

Sopa del día…

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolpho Castellanos calabacita soup"

…made with calabacita criolla.

It’s amazing what great food can do to change the mood of a group. The starters were delightful and so completely different from one another. The beets were sassy, with the foamy goat cheese and cold beet granite. Just like the octopus from the day before, this was so tender. I’ve never swooned over octopus before, but this one had me at first bite. And the soup? Well it was the giant hug that we all needed to lift our spirits.

Our mood stayed high throughout the rest of the meal as thoughtfully prepared, tasty plates of food were placed in front of us.

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolfo Castellanos scallops"

Callo margarita – sautéed bay scallops, cauliflower puree, pork belly, pomegranate and mandarin.

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolfo Castellanos pork sous vide"

Filete de cerdo a baja temperatura – sous vide pork tenderloin, braised red cabbage and quince puree.

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolfo Castellanos turkey mole"

Guajolote en Pipian – roasted turkey, green pipian, roasted local squash and pearl onions.

"Oaxaca Origen Rodolfo Castellanos goat"

Cabrito lechal confitado – suckling goat confit, yellow squash puree, capers, raisins, spiced carrots

I believe I was the big winner of the night with my choice of the goat, which I thought was the strongest many delicious plates.  As we rotated the plates around the table to get a bite of what everyone was having, I may have put my elbows up  to block anyone from coming in for a second bite.

While we waited for our dessert, I snuck over to speak to the chef as I noticed he was sitting in the back by himself. Yes, this is the difference between Oaxaca and everywhere else in the world. Where else could I get access like this? Or maybe it’s says more about me in Oaxaca, that I’m willing to go speak to the chef. Perhaps it’s a combination of both, but weighted more towards the former than latter in my opinion.

From our conversation the day before, I knew that Rodolfo had spent time in San Francisco after culinary school in Puebla. I was curious to know more about his time there. He’d mention he worked in the kitchen of Top Chef Master’s Traci Des Jardins as well as a few others and before that he spent time in Monaco and then as the Chef for the French Ambassador in Mexico City. It amazed me to learn how connected these Oaxacan chefs are to the international gastronomic community and to realize what a treasure they are to their own city.

I know I shouldn’t have been shocked that there are some tremendously accomplished chefs in Oaxaca. Even though it’s my 3rd visit in 4 years and each time, I’ve been exposed to marvellous food, I was starting to understand that there is more to Oaxaca than the “land of 7 moles”. Perhaps that’s why I found my time spent with these chefs so fascinating and why I’ve been so excited to write these posts.

Chef Castellanos was patient with my questions and our conversation led my mind in many directions but there were 2 questions I needed to ask…

Me: Because I’m Top Chef crazy (and I know I’m not the only one), what was the one thing he learned from his time at Jardiniere with Chef Traci Des Jardins that he carries with him to this day?

Chef: Respect of the ingredient and a learning process (in the kitchen/in your career, you can’t have any shortcuts).

Me: I understand why you chose to return to Oaxaca, but do you miss working on a larger stage/big city like San Fran?

Chef: I enjoy every single day in Oaxaca, but of course we miss SF and the excitement to work in those types of restaurants. It’s a very nice feeling and adrenaline that you can’t replace easily with anything… and the city is great!

Dessert came out and  I didn’t have time to ask exactly what was on the plate.  I remembered that Rick Bayless had posted some photos on Twitter a month ago, and when I went back to check I noticed we had exactly the same desserts! 

"Oaxaca Origen Castellanos Chocolate"

Oaxacan chocolate & pasilla chile buñuelos,verbena ice cream.

"Oaxaca Origen mamon dessert"

Baked Alaska of mamon,leche quemada ice cream, caramel pineapple,meringue.

From start to finish, our meal at Origen was extraordinary. We were presented with dish after dish of wonderful food. There were splashes of whimsy in each dish that pushed the boundaries, but at their core the traditional Oaxacan flavours were not lost. I appreciated Chef Castellanos’ use of textures and temperatures to engage the diner in a higher level experience. It’s meals like these that make me want to give people a shake when their eyes glaze over when I tell them I’m going to Oaxaca to eat. But I think things are on the verge of change and people will start to take notice. I really hope so, at least, because this food is too good to ignore.

IMG_6054

Origen – Hidalgo 820, Centro, Oaxaca

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