Mexico / Peak Experience / Perfect Days

Top Experiences with “The Top Chef”

I am a fortunate person for so many reasons. I know this, but I also know that I work hard at making the most of my good fortune. I embrace positivity and jump as opportunities present themselves. And because of this, my good fortune seems to grow exponentially.

One of the things I feel fortunate about is that although one of my favourite restaurants is located in Oaxaca, Mexico, for the past 5 years, I’ve been able to return each year to be treated to a spectacular experience.

After Chef Rodolfo Castellanos won Top Chef Mexico, I wondered how this year’s visit to Oaxaca would be for me. Would the Chef have time for me? How would the restaurant have changed? Would his cooking have changed? Would he have changed???

I’ve documented in previous posts from this year’s visit to Oaxaca, that I had nothing to worry about. Chef Rodolfo was the same kind and generous person to me that he had been in years previous, actually even more so.

This year I was fortunate to be invited into Rodolfo’s parent’s home to have a enjoy a meal prepared by his mother Evelia. Walking into their home, I was struck with the similarities to my own family home, down to the same couches surrounding their television which sits next to the dining room table, which was topped with the same lace tablecloth my mother has.

I found myself with a huge grin throughout the meal watching my father-in-law Henry interact with Rodolfo’s father Gerardo in the same way he does with my father and by watching Evelia, too busy with serving to sit down  at the table, just like my mom. I was touched to be invited into their home to share a family meal and was comforted in similarities Rodolfo’s family shared with my own.

All of Evelia’s food was amazing and prepared with so much care, but her chile rellenos were to die for!

Rodolfo Castellanos family Susy Bando

A homemade meal shared with good people is such a peak experience. For that I am grateful.

Rodolfo invited me to go to Etla the next day with his family and the staff at Origen for an outing. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I’d be taken on an adventure that most people would never get to experience. And really, aren’t those the best adventures to take?

So we loaded onto a bus up to Etla,  and when we got there,  we all piled out and into a small restaurant for breakfast.

Rodolfo Castellanos Oaxaca etla

Rodolfo checking out the action on the comal.

Rodolfo Castellanos Oaxaca photo

Rodolfo explained that these women didn’t use a tortilla press and pounded theirs out by hand.

We were served coffee, champurrado and plates full of bread. Of course that was just the start, as the real breakfast was to follow. I left the food ordering to Rodolfo and as always there was so much!

Etla menudo

Menudo, the perfect Sunday morning breakfast.

Rodolfo Castellanos Oaxaca Etla

Adding the cilantro, onions, chile and limes really brightens up the rich menudo.

Enchiladas Oaxaca Etla

Enchiladas in frijoles

Etla empanada

Empanada with flor de calabaza (zucchini blossoms) and queso (cheese).

Etla memelas

Oaxaca memelas

Memelas

etla-rodolfo-castellanos-lizette

A wholesome breakfast with good people is always the most delicious way to start the day. 

After breakfast we wandered through a tiny market and down to the fantastic Centro de las Artes San Augustin. The group then decided to take a hike up along the town’s aquaduct to an old hydroelectric plant. Again, I had no idea what to expect (and it turns out we were a bit underprepared in terms of the heat & our need for water), but upon reflection, it was amazing nonetheless.

Etla aqueduct

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One last stop on our way back to the city and that was for dinner. I was surprised when we pulled into the parking lot of a Chinese/Asian restaurant. Chinese food in Oaxaca? Yup, and it was pretty good!

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All smiles even though everyone was everyone was exhausted. That’s the sign of an amazing staff team!

On my last day in Oaxaca, the day I always choose for my dinner at Origen, I started wondering again what my meal would be like? Winning Top Chef hadn’t seem to change Rodolfo as the kind and generous person he’s always been to me, but had it changed him as a Chef? I was excited to find out.

But before I would have these questions answered, I had one last other must on my Oaxaca itinerary. A mezcal tasting at Mezcaloteca.

Mezcaloteca is a seriously informative place to learn about mezcal if you’re an English only speaker like myself. Last year, I had a great tasting with Andrea and left with a very special bottle which is now one of the prizes of my collection. This year, Omar arranged for a tasting with owner, Sylvia who took our group, who was at various levels in our mezcal education, through a series of different tastings.

Mezcaloteca Oaxaca mezcal

I’m not normally one to get into “added flavours” in liquor, but I really enjoyed this mezcal with mango & habanero chile.

Susy Bando Oaxacking Omar Alonso

So happy to have shared my last night in Oaxaca with Omar tasting mezcal.

I wanted to spend my last dinner with Omar, and asked him to help arrange the meal.  We were told we’d be sat downstairs at the Chef’s Table, rather than upstairs in the dining room, but I was happy with that because I prefer sitting downstairs. Call it nostalgia to when I first ate at Origen more than 4 years ago, but it’s also the best place to get a view of the kitchen while seated.

When we arrived at Origen, we were seated downstairs for a cocktail and were told Chef Rodolfo would be right down. It turned out there was a huge party of VIP’s upstairs and when I went up to peek on the action, he looked to seriously be in the weeds. Not wanting to interrupt, I snuck back downstairs to begin my Origen experience.

Origen Oaxaca cocktail

After he finished upstairs, Chef Rodolfo came down to chat with us while we were enjoying our cocktails. I love that the Chef makes time for his guests and appreciate he connects to his guest not only by his talents as a chef in the kitchen but is willing to make time to share his mind as well. It’s probably the main reason why a meal at Origen is always a favourite.

Origen Oaxaca

And with that, Chef jumped into his downstairs kitchen to start our meal. I have to say, another reason why I love eating at Origen is that Chef allows me into his kitchen, and while I try to be as unobtrusive as possible, I can’t help but peer closely.

Rodolfo Castellanos Origen Oaxaca foie gras

“You’ve never had my foie gras have you?”

“Foie gras torchon at Origen? No! And something he’s able to source locally? A total surprise to me. But I’m learning that surprise, or perhaps better described as wonderment is an appropriate feeling for the meal that I was about to be served.

Rodolfo Castellanos Origen Oaxaca plating

Origen Oaxaca foie gras

Foie gras torchon with sweet tomato compote. If you follow my posts, you know I’m a sucker for foie gras. This was the perfect first bite for me.

Consejo cervecero stout

The stout pairing with the foie was surprising but the caramel flavours of the beer ended up pairing very well.

rodolfo-castellanos-origen-oaxaca-kitchen

Origen Oaxaca prep

Wendy, whom I met at the staff outing, working hard at plating as per the Chef’s example.

Origen Oaxaca beets

Beet salad with goat cheese and cumin granita. I loved the intense sweet earthy beets combined with the smooth cold goat cheese. This dish was reminiscent of one I’d had at my first Origen dinner in 2012, but as I look back on photos from then to now, I see how much more refined this dish is in plating and flavours.

Rodolfo Castellanos Origen Oaxaca pasta

It feels a bit like cheating to go into the kitchen to see what’s next up. But I can’t help but peek. Well that and I like witnessing Rodolfo’s focus and joy in the kitchen because I feel it really translates into his dishes.

Origen Oaxaca pasta

Homemade pasta with tichinda (mussels) and pitiona herb.

Rodolfo Castellanos Oaxaca

Origen Oaxaca quail

Grilled quail, oyster mushrooms, a little beet with hoja santa pesto. While I loved the presentation, it was the earthiness of the whole dish that made this one of my favourites from the evening.

Oaxaca Chef Rodolfo Castellanos

Part of what makes every meal I’ve had at Origen such a peak experience is that Rodolfo comes out for each course to explain what he is serving and to answer any questions we may have (which we always have).

origen-oaxaca-fish

Roasted lisa fish, leeks with a local crab meat and citrus salad.

Origen Oaxaca

While service at Origen has always been great, this time, after spending time with the staff on their outing to Etla, it seemed a bit more special and interactive.

Rodolfo Castellanos Origen Oaxaca

From taking my first cooking class in this kitchen 4 years earlier to now, I’ve seen many changes in the equipment being used from upgrades in blenders to the addition and improvements of sous vide machines. But even with the improvement in technology, at the end of the day it’s the touch from the Chef’s own hand that matters most.

Origen Oaxaca beef

Beef fillet with chichilo mole and smoked cauliflower puree. This is the mole Chef Rodolfo “won” Top Chef with. As a uber fan of the show , I understand how tough a competition it is, and from learning about Chef Rodolfo’s own experience during the show and after he won, I understood how meaningful this final plate was. Just a few bites can tell such a broad story when done well. There was so much restraint in this plate; simplicity from confidence in the flavours presented. 

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Ponche (a traditional Mexican Christmas punch) nieve (ice)

Origen oaxaca bunuelos

Bunuelos (another traditional Christmas treat) with cream, pink nieve, and berries

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Chocolate, champurrado and goat cheese foam. There was a lot more to this dish, but by this point, I stopped taking notes.

I know it’s the feeling of being so spoiled in my dinner’s at Origen on my last night in Oaxaca that leaves me with the longing to return even before I’ve boarded the plane to return home. Couple that with being so fortunate in spending time with such amazing people, well this year, I can’t wait a whole year to return.

Rodolfo Castellanos Susy Bando Oaxacking

Thanks for being so amazing! Hope to see you again soon!

 

 

 

 

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