Food Travel America / Peak Experience

My fantastic day in Oaxaca with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos

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.

"Origen Oaxaca taller "
We were treated to a delicious coffee and piece of sweet bread while we waited for the Chef Rodolfo to arrive.

"Origen Oaxaca Panque Nata"
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.

"Rodolfo Castellanos Abastos Oaxaca"

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 Castellanos Abastos Oaxaca shopping"

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.

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos Abastos shopping"

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos Abastos corn"

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We bought greens, corn and herbs for our soup and half way through stopped for a little snack of memelas.

"Abastos Oaxaca memelas"

Memelas are toasted masa (fatter than tortillas) topped with various ingredients. Ours were kept simple with just salsa.

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.

Abastos Oaxaca memelas Rodolfo Castellanos

"Rodolfo Castellanos memelas"

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.

"Abastos Oaxaca Rodolpho Castellanos Susy Bando"

"Origen Oaxaca Rodolfo Castellanos Susy Bando"

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.

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos Chilacayote"

Chef Rodolfo preparing the chilcayote squash for the our drink.

Chilacoyote boiled in water and pilonillo (sugar)

Chilacoyote boiled in water and piloncillo cone (unrefined whole cane sugar). Pineapple and lime rind is added at the end and then everything is blended.

"Origen Oaxaca Rodolfo Castellanos ceviche"

Prepping the ingredients to make the leche de tigre to be used as a marinade for the ceviche.

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos atun"

Chef Rodolfo breaking down a tuna and joking that his skills are not like a Japanese sushi chef.

"Oaxaca Origen Castellanos atun"

Searing the tuna on la plancha(flat top).

Seared tuna loin resting.

Seared tuna loin resting.

Tom coats the loin with melted piloncillo sugar and coats it on the outside of the tuna.

Tom brushes the loin with melted piloncillo sugar.

Chilhaucle negro peppers are roasted, deseeded, ground and coated on the outside of the loin.

Chilhuacle negro peppers are roasted, deseeded, ground and coated on the outside of the loin.

Cleaned produce from the market used in various dishes.

Cleaned produce from the market used in various dishes.

The guias (squash stems) for the soap de guias.

The guias (squash stems) for the sopa de guias.

Herbs for the soap de guias.

Herbs for the sopa de guias.

Henry cleans and preps the greens for the soup.

Henry cleans and preps the greens for the soup.

Sopa de guias

Chef explained that sopa de guias contained vegetables that all grow harmoniously together. It seemed like a wonderful concept and one that I’ll try from my own vegetable garden next year.

"Oaxaca Rodolfo Castellanos Susy Bando Origen"

Chef Rodolfo teaching me an easy technique for getting the batter around a chile relleno by creating egg rafts.

"Susy Bando Oaxaca"

Me, carefully trying the technique out.

"Origen Oaxaca Taller rabbit sweetbread"

After a whole rabbit was butchered, Rodolfo decided to use the loin and stuff it with sweetbreads, carrots, asparagus and greens.

"Origen Oaxaca Taller rabbit roll"

Seasoned and then carefully rolled.

"Origen Oaxaca Taller rabbit rolled"

Tied and then put on la plancha to sear and then into the oven to finish.

Cut open, I was most excited about tasting this dish.

Cut open, I was most excited about tasting this dish.

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 enjoyed this bottle so much I brought one home!

I enjoyed this bottle so much I brought one home!

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos Taller Sopa de guias"

Sopa de guias – With a base of just water and only the addition of vegetables, I wondered how much flavour this soup would have. I tasted throughout the cooking process and couldn’t believe the flavours that developed. This soup was complex and soul satisfying.

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos Taller ceviche"

Dorado (mahi mahi) ceviche with leche de tigre is less acidic and more complex that the traditional Mexican marinade for ceviche.

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos Taller atun"

Seared tuna crusted with chilhuacle negro peppers sitting on top of avocado and compressed watermelon felt almost Japanese in its preparation, but the flavours were truly Oaxacan.

"Origen Oaxaca Castellanos Taller chile relleno"

Rabbit stuffed chiles rellenos made with chile de agua were the light and delicious. This will definitely be recreated at home.

"Origen Oaxaca Taller Castellanos rabbit"

The stuffed rabbit was Chef’s inspiration of the moment and a bonus plate for us. Finished with pomegranate and onion ash, it was as delicious as it looked.

"Origen Oaxaca Taller Rodolfo fruit"

Molly and Jo did a wonderful job peeling the tejocote and guava for this dessert which were dropped into sugar water and simmered away. The fruit was then placed on top a piece of the delicious sweet bread…

"Origen Oaxaca Taller mezcal sabayon"

…and finished with a mezcal sabayon. It was the perfect sweet finish to an amazing meal.

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.

Thanks to the gang for being so patient with me!

Thanks to the gang for being so supportive of my food loving, letting me use your photos and for helping to prepare a fantastic meal.

"Oaxaca Rodolfo Castellanos Susy Bando"

And a very heartfelt thank you to Chef Rodolfo for being so patient with my questions and for sharing his time with us!

3 thoughts on “My fantastic day in Oaxaca with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos

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