In March of 2015, Chopt, sent me to Mexico City and Oaxaca, where I gathered inspiration, photography, spices and stories and brought them back to New York. It was then that I met chef, musician, and Mezcal exporter Niki Nakazawa, and we cooked together for the first time. We spent two days walking the mercado, visiting a biodynamic microgreen farmer, tasting mezcal and experimenting with Niki’s impressive collection of heirloom chile. Niki’s contribution to Salad For President presented Mexican cuisine through a vegetable lens (what more could you want from life?) It was clear there would be future collaborations between us.
Last Thursday night, I had the pleasure of hosting Niki at Chopt’s new Red Hook outpost for special events, where we created a menu that would revolve around corn, the heart of Mexican cuisine and culture. Niki’s cooking pays homage to the best ingredients that Mexico has to offer — landrace corn being one such primary ingredient. But, it would take 24 hours of prep before we could start forming those tamales. The team from New York’s premier Mexican restaurant, Cosme, invited us to partake in their daily ritual of nixtamal, the ancient technique for processing heirloom corn prior to grinding it into masa. The corn itself was the most brilliant blue and the clearest of white, imported from Mexico and donated by Masienda (the only corn chef Enrique Olvera will use in his restaurant).
Beginning with that incredibly high quality purple, blue, white and yellow corn, the chefs at Cosme soaked and cooked the grain in an alkaline solution overnight. The solution breaks down the hull of the corn, making its nutrients readily digestible (very important if you are eating corn products at every meal). The next morning, we ground the kernals down into a fresh masa using a special mill brought to NY all the way from Mexico.
Zita, the Master of Tortillas in Cosme’s kitchen, showed us how to roll the masa into perfect spheres, half blue and half white masa. These perfect spheres were then pressed into thin tortillas that we would cook gently on the griddle. The result was pillowy and light, perfect for sopping up the rich molé amarillo that Niki would prepare for 50 of our closest friends.
We ate tamales filled with mussels in the shell, we piled Good Water Farms microgreens on top of chicharon, sipped cocktails garnished with edible flowers from my garden, and drank a whole lot of mezcal smuggled all the way here in Niki’s suitcase (yup, she doesn’t just cook, she produces mezcal too). To top it off Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina (a New Yorker by way of Mexico City), served a tascalate ice cream in tiny cones. Tascalate is a Chiapan beverage prepared from milled toasted corn, cacao, cinnamon, piloncillo and annato seed which gives it its terracotta color.
Thank you to all of our partners in the event:
Since January 2001, Chopt has been the go-to spot for salad-loving New Yorkers. Known for their inventive combinations, and addictive dressings, Chopt was the first restaurant to make its sole focus salad. Today Chopt owns and operates 30 salad restaurants in NYC, Connecticut, DC, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, and soon, Texas. Every new city is another step toward their goal of recruiting Americans to eat more locally grown vegetables, and more salad than ever before.
Since moving to Mexico City in 2007, Niki Nakazawa has navigated between the art, architecture, music and food worlds. After several years working as managing editor at art and architecture publishing houses, she founded the experimental pop-up restaurant and catering company Pichón in 2012 with two friends from the US. Pichón produces culinary experiences that connect diners to an exploration of what it means to eat local in Mexico City.
￼Cosme is a restaurant in New York City’s Flatiron District serving contemporary Mexican-inspired cuisine. World-renowned Chef Enrique Olvera and his team create dishes rooted in Mexican flavors and traditions, while also celebrating local and seasonal ingredients from the Hudson Valley and surrounding region.
La Newyorkina produces delicious Mexican style frozen treats and sweets in the heart of Brooklyn. In an effort to share the rich culture and sweetness of her hometown of Mexico City, Fany Gerson founded the company in 2010. La Newyorkina’s desserts are lovingly handmade with locally sourced produce when possible, and carefully sourced ingredients like Oaxacan chocolate and chiles.
Masienda sources and imports landrace maize directly from independent, smallholder farms in Mexico to the US culinary market and beyond. Founded in 2014, Masienda pursues exceptional flavor in the execution of its core mission: to import the highest quality maize while creating a fair market that promotes agricultural biodiversity and supports smallholder farmers in Mexico. Masienda purveys non-GMO maize that celebrates provenance, flavor, color and culinary application. Masienda partners with farmers, extensionist groups, preservationists, seed breeders, sustainability experts, seed banks, and seed custodians while thoughtfully sourcing the finest products available.
ARLEY MARKS DRINKS
Arley Marks creates inventive and unique cocktails that employ scents, garnishes and unexpected ingredients to present a drink experience that is both multi-sensory and intoxicating. He is currently the Bar Director at Dimes NYC, and his cocktails have been featured in Vanity Fair, The Fader, and Condé Nast Traveler. His clients include Eckhaus Latta, Bridget Donahue Gallery, Artists Space, Material Vodka, Regimes Des Fleurs, and many more.