After my day with Chef Alejandro Ruiz last year, I wasn’t sure what type of adventure I could organize that would top it.
I had a few things I had wanted to do while I was in Oaxaca, and I emailed Alejandro to try to arrange something, but he was in the midst of some new business ventures and we were unable to schedule time to connect this year.
Remembering the fantastic meal we had at Origen last year and that Chef Rodolfo Castellanos was such a gracious host, I reached out to Rodolfo and was lucky when he emailed me back right away. We arranged a time for the group to go down for a taller (workshop) with him to “do something nice”. That sounded perfect to me
When we arrived at Origen early on Saturday, I wondered how this day would compare to my adventure from the year before. Rodolfo and I had decided we’d determine the menu that morning, and although Henry was encouraging us to come in with ideas in mind, I liked the idea of building a meal from whatever was inspiring the Chef.
When Chef Rodolfo arrived, he greeted us with a smile so welcoming, it felt like we were old friends being reunited. I remembered the warmth and kindness that Rodolfo showed us last year and was immediately happy that I reached out to him.
Our only requested dish was ceviche and the rest was Chef’s choice. Our guidelines were that we weren’t looking for traditional Oaxacan (like a mole) but wanted to use Oaxacan flavors in ways different from what we’d see in the restaurants in town. We talked about making a traditional sopa de guias (squash vine and vegetable soup) and that our ceviche would be done in a Peruvian style with a leche de tigre marinade. Rodolfo suggested we go to the market and see what else we could find.
We hadn’t really discussed the itinerary for the day so I was thinking we’d be visiting the Benito Juarez market a few blocks from his restaurant like we had with Chef Alejandro the year before. I was happily surprised to find out that Rodolfo’s little hatchback was parked out front of the restaurant and the 6 of us piled into his car for an adventure to the Abastos market.
I’d been through Abastos on a few occasions but have always left feeling it was too big, intimidating, confusing and dark. I’m thankful Chef Rodolfo took us to Abastos, because with him, it was none of those things. Walking around the market with Rodolfo, I was filled with excitement to be there and buy products that we’d be using.
I was told recently that the Abastos is 2nd largest market in Latin America and that at points, there can be up to 20,000 vendors. This is probably the reason it’s put me off before. But walking with chef, the market was purposeful.
Rodolfo said that they shop at market twice a week for Origen, and he himself, tries to come down once a week to see what was fresh and in season act as an inspiration for his changing menu.
We bought greens, corn and herbs for our soup and half way through stopped for a little snack of memelas.
I loved the respect the Chef had for the woman who served us the memelas and amazed at something as simple as salsa and cheese served on top of a memelas cooked over the comal could be so delicious.
Chef Rodolfo was great at answering all of our questions about the different products we were seeing and even had us sampling unusual fruits that I’ve always looked at and have been curious about.
Throughout the market trip, I was lucky to be able to have the attention of the chef to ask questions to get to know more about the food of Oaxaca and more specifically about his restaurant, Origen. I was truly happy in conversation with Rodolfo because I could ask honest and technical questions and get thoughtful answers that broadened my food knowledge.
Back at Origen it was time to get learning. Unbeknownst to us, Chef Rodolfo had developed a broad menu from our market visit and other products he had fresh back at Origen. He mentioned that they were receiving fresh tuna from the coast and he had one we could eat raw and also rabbit in preparation for a rabbit festival he was taking part in the next week.
Our menu for lunch included an agua de chilacayote (Mexican squash water), sopa de guias, ceviche, seared tuna crusted with chilhuacle negro peppers, rabbit stuffed chiles rellenos, a stuffed rabbit loin and mescal stewed fruit with a mezcal sabayon for dessert.
When all the prep was complete, it was time to sit down for lunch. We were served our delicious agua de chilacayote drink as well as mezcal.
I know I lead a fortunate life and I truly felt it in the moment, at the end this wonderful meal I had just experienced. I had spent the day with a talented chef and in the kitchen with others who were appreciating the experience as much as I was, but allowed me to feel like the day was mine, alone. Oaxaca is a very special place and my day with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos helps cement that sentiment in my soul.