I knew before going on this trip to Mexico that I wanted to focus my thoughts and draw a line in the sand between objective and emotional enthusiasm. Over the years, I’ve written high praise for Chef Rodolfo Castellanos and his restaurant Origen in Oaxaca. There have been many posts, not just about his food and restaurants, but also about how hospitable he and his family have been to me and my family in Oaxaca. We’ve shared wonderful experiences with our mutual families, friends and his staff outside the restaurant, all of which has fostered my love for Oaxaca in general.
I understand now, many years later, that some of my enthusiasm for Rodolfo is a result of his generosity with me outside of the restaurant. My thoughts have been swayed by the admiration I feel from his connection to his community, his commitment to being a mentor and teacher, and the importance he places on collaborative efforts and even more so on family.
Mariana Castillo described my feelings on Rodolfo’s generosity in sharing Oaxaca with me exactly in her El Universal article on Origen’s 6th Anniversary (that I also attended); “A regular host welcomes you, gives you a gift and thanks you. A Oaxacan host goes out of their way for you, takes you to their favourite places, introduces you to their friends, makes you eat, shares mezcal with you, invites you to their celebrations, becomes your friend and part of your family”.
Leading up to this trip, I started to wonder. Has my passion for Rodolfo’s food at Origen and subsequently Poleo in Mexico City been amplified because of my appreciation of the Oaxacan experiences the chef has shared with me outside his restaurants? I recommend Origen as the “#1 must visit” when I’m asked where to eat in Oaxaca, but would others, who don’t share the same connection, enjoy the meal as much as I do?
As an added question I’ve been curious about, as Rodolfo becomes busier with new projects and not always in the kitchen, are the meals coming out of Origen and Poleo when he’s not the there, up to the same standard as I’ve experienced when he is in the kitchen?*
On this trip to Mexico, I not only visited with a mind cognizant of my potential bias and questions but also with 2 friends who aren’t Mexican/Oaxacan food experienced to be new palates to Rodolfo’s cuisine. My friends know of my feelings, but they’re also strong in their convictions of likes and dislikes and are open to sharing these with me honestly.
With our tight travel timeline and Rodolfo’s busy schedule, leading into our trip, I assumed we’d only have a meal at Origen. But as it turned out, Rodolfo was in Mexico City for the night my friends and I were there on our layover to Oaxaca, so we started our trip to Mexico with dinner at Poleo.
It’s been a year since my first epic evening of dining at Poleo just after it had opened and my 3rd visit in total. Each time I’ve visited Poleo, Rodolfo has been there and I’ve had the opportunity to witness his connection and commitment to the restaurant. While I know Rodolfo’s roots are firmly embedded at Origen in Oaxaca, he keeps a watchful eye at Poleo with regular visits. He works closely with Chef de Cuisine Alejando Euroza, fine-tuning flavours, updating the menu regularly, and ensuring that each dish that comes out of the kitchen regardless of his presence or not, are representative of his vision and up to his standards.
We arranged to dine at Poleo towards the end of the evening in hopes Rodolfo would have time to spend with us and I requested a seat opposite the kitchen to be able to watch the action. When we arrived, we were greeted with warm hugs and it seemed Rodolfo was not in the kitchen that night, and would offer us the pleasure of his company during our meal.
As we settled in for the eveing, I didn’t look at the menu and instead asked Rodolfo to send us the dishes he wanted us to try.
Our fabulous meal at Poleo was outside the scope of my friends’ imaginations and started to lay a foundation for their understanding of contemporary Oaxacan cuisine. Throughout dinner, I could see they were both enthusiastic with the plates placed in front of us first visually and then to taste. This thrilled me and allowed me to propose to them that we also go for dinner at Origen while we were in Oaxaca.
Due to Rodolfo’s busy schedule, we found ourselves at Origen on a rainy evening just 2 nights later. I was nervous about what my friends would think to be eating another indulgent meal, but they seemed up to it.
Rodolfo was not in the kitchen for the evening and we were in the hands of Origen’s Chef de Cuisine, Wendy Peralta. I asked Rodolfo to choose what he thought would be best for us again, especially knowing what we’d eaten 2 nights before.
As an aside – I have not learned… Just as I had a “water bottle leak in my bag” incident leading up to my Origen dinner in 2016, I had another just before this dinner. The following photos are taken on my iPhone, where colour, focus and noise are harder to control.
My friends and I were fortunate to experience both Poleo and Origen on this trip. Having spent time with Rodolfo during both meals, perhaps they weren’t totally impartial of their experience, but as a group, we discussed both meals and what we were served in depth afterwards and I was able to collect my thoughts on the experience.
I ended this trip to Mexico with a quick meal alone at Poleo, treating myself to one of my favourite bites of Rodolfo’s with a focused mind. As I went through the photos of the two evenings at Poleo and Origen, my taste buds danced in the memory of each of the dishes. I knew without hesitation that it was without bias when I say Chef Rodolfo Castellanos’ food is the real deal. While Rodolfo was at the restaurants both nights, he wasn’t in the kitchen for either but it didn’t seem to matter. The dishes we were served may have been conceived by Chef Rodolfo, but they were executed with care and precision by Alejando Euroza at Poleo and Wendy Peralta at Origen.
On both evenings, dish after dish, we were treated to plates that were visually inviting, with flavours that ranged from comforting to exciting, all complex without being complicated. Throughout both meals, I understood the connection between what was being served to Oaxaca through the ingredients and the flavours. I also appreciated the differences between what is offered at Origen and Poleo and the opportunity for the chef to push his creative boundaries at both. There has been so much progression in Rodolfo’s food over the years but on this visit, the dishes had the addition of being soulful, like you could understand the personality of the chef from what was being delivered on the plate.
When I asked my friends about what they thought of the food, their reactions came out with exclamation points. ” The soft shell crab was so tasty! The octopus was so tender! I could eat that potato foam every day! The suckling pig so delectable! The tongue, mmmmmmmm…”. Yes, the most enthusiasm was around the fork-tender tongue at Origen (insert drooling emoji here). So while I was delighted in everything I had, it was with much happiness that my friends were just as excited about the meals as I, as they confirmed my convictions on how extraordinary Origen and Poleo are and the talent of Chef Rodolfo and his kitchen staff undeniable.
Poleo: Amsterdam 225 Col. Hipódromo, Condesa, CDMX
Origen: Hidalgo 820 Centro, Oaxaca
*I was happy to hear when I sent friends to Poleo (who are very familiar with Chef Rodolfo and Origen) and they were blown away by the meal delivered by Alejandro Euroza. Another person I’d recommended Origen to, followed up to tell me that even thought Rodolfo wasn’t present during their dinner there, it was “extraordinary”, kudos to Wendy Peralta as well!