Chef Jose Carlos Redon serves ‘food of Aztec emperors’ at Cinco de Mayo event
Mexican chef Jose Carlos Redon recently blew into town, courtesy of of Mexican Embassy cultural affairs head Luis Gerardo Regalado Ruíz de Chávez, in connection with the Manila celebration of Cinco de Mayo, which commemorates the Mexican victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
For the fiesta, Redon came up with an unusual menu: escamoles (ant eggs) and chapulines (grasshoppers), both served with guacamole wrapped in blue corn tortilla. A more normal fare was the Aguachile de Camaron (shrimp aguachile), a dish similar to ceviche.
Redon has been featured on the Netflix show “Bugs.” He spearheads the Mexican food industry’s efforts to bring back insects and edible vegetation to the tables of Mexico and the world.
“Eating insects is part of my heritage,” Redon said. “To me, it is not something trendy, though it is becoming quite trendy.”
Chavez agreed and said: “You cannot have a more authentic experience than this. The way of eating, the way of cooking the insects, identifies us. I am so proud of eating this and proud to have Jose Carlos here. It is the first time we have someone to talk about our food traditions that are centuries-old.”
The insects were a challenge to bring to Manila from Mexico. They had been foraged from Redon’s organic farm Teotlacualli (Food of the Gods).
He said that insects are considered luxury delicacies in Mexico.
“We consider escamoles as royal caviar or caviar of the Aztecs,” he pointed out. “It was food to Aztec emperors and high clerics of the church.”
Escamoles are the edible larvae and pupae of ants endemic to Mexico, said the chef.
Bugs are rare and served only during special occasions. I learned that in restaurants, a serving of 30 grams of escamoles will cost more than $100.
A family project, started eight years ago in Redon’s Teotlacualli farm, has now evolved into a business.
He said that, as far as he could remember, his grandmother and great-grandmother had been collecting insects and serving them in their kitchens.
Foraging for escamoles is tedious. It is comparable to looking for truffles.
Redon said they would walk for hours under the hot sun: “We couldn’t take much water, the weight slows us down. The walk is some 10-15 km long.”
The foraging begins early in the morning as the ants are sensitive to light, thus, nests covered by some sort of shade are preferred. With a spear they dig for the ants and eggs.
Traditionally, escamoles are cooked in butter, onions, serrano chilies, pazote—to give it an aromatic and perfumed flavor—and some salt.
I honestly love the escamoles. They were nutty and chewy. I cannot quite explain why I love it, I just do.
As for the grasshoppers, well...
Redon started cooking at age six. His first specialty were cinnamon cookies. From baked goodies, he turned to bugs. But he confessed his favorite food is eggplant.
“Mexican food to me is identity —it’s family, it’s pleasure, adventure,” he said. “A holistic experience.”
Redon shared his recipes.
750 g avocado
300 g tomatoes
100 g white onion
50 g coriander
Lime juice to taste
Chop the onions and tomatoes into cubes, and the coriander separately. All of this should make the perfect pico de gallo.
In a mortar (preferably molcajete), mash the avocados until smooth.
Mix with a spoon the chopped onions and tomatoes with the avocados. Add chopped coriander. Add lime juice to taste. Mix.
Serve with tortilla chips and/or chicharron.
Aguachile de Camaron
3 kg shrimps, peeled
250 g green chili, sliced
250 g red onion, julienne
750 g cucumber, thinly sliced with a mandolin
750 ml lime juice
200 g fresh coriander leaves
Shrimps must be peeled, deveined and kept whole and submerged in water with the lime juice.
Add chili, onion, cucumber and salt. Add the coriander last.
Preparation takes about 20 minutes before serving, so the shrimp is firm and the acid of the lime juice has enough time to “cook” the dish.
Serve with tortillas.
I’m cooking Truffle Lechon in class. For schedule, text 0917-5543700.