Enrique Olvera’s Visit to Providence Could Be a Pivotal Moment in L.A.’s Modern Mexican Scene

The chef from Pujol and Cosme came to Providence and showed some <i>pocho</i> chefs what high Mexican gastronomy is all about

For Michael Cimarusti’s last guest chef dinner to observe the tenth anniversary of Providence, he enlisted a pair of chefs from the two cooking schools of the moment: Nordic and Modern Mexican. Representing the former, Chef Matthew Orlando, who has held just about every big chef gig in the world including a run as Noma’s first ever chef de cuisine, and the latter, chef Enrique Olvera, the leader of Mexican gastronomy, who opened his first restaurant in the U.S. last year, N.Y.C.’s Cosme.

Many of the current generation of top Mexican chefs have either worked or staged in Olvera’s Pujol in Mexico City, and our own Modern Mexican chefs have made the pilgrimage to D.F. to dine at Olvera’s flagship restaurant. Currently, a meal at Cosme is a rite of passage for chefs looking for inspiration.

“I wouldn’t call the food at Cosme overtly Mexican, but whatever I cook—it comes out Mexican, because, that’s who I am”, said Olvera over spicy wings and a bucket of beer Lao at Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok L.A. “I can’t help it.” As one of the first two chefs to really help define the genre, Olvera brings a depth of knowledge of traditional Mexican technique and how to apply it to the modern kitchen. That skill set is more pertinent in L.A. than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

When Olvera’s mole course arrived hit the table—it was a Oaxacan mole chichilo base with charred seaweed to pair with a tender poached lobster, fiddlehead ferns, and raw purslane—chef Eduardo Ruiz of Corazon y Miel, who was also dining, just threw up his hands in praise. The use of mole by other chefs trying to bring the revered tradition into the modern kitchen usually misses the mark—Olvera corrects his mole base to suit the foreign elements, drawing from a larger vocabulary of moles (Mexico has more than 300 varieties), never forgetting what the dish is all about—the mole.

My grandmother would do this and just about any Mexican mother knows this practice—correcting your mole, whether it is made from scratch, a paste or a powder. “He makes it look easy”, added Ruiz. The range of Mexican techniques used by Olvera in contemporary cooking goes far beyond what Mexican and non-Mexican chefs in the U.S. have in their arsenal. When it comes to instinct in Modern cuisine, in respect to elevating a dish with technique, Olvera agreed that it’s something only a Mexican chef can truly understand—“when someone comes from somewhere else, they will make different decisions.”

Would Mexico’s most celebrated chef ever consider coming to L.A.? “Yes, but I need to spend some more time out here, and I’d have to free up a project to do it right”, said Olvera. With all of the emerging talent of young pocho chefs here in L.A., this rare visit by chef Enrique Olvera to cook with L.A.’s best chef in a few years might be remembered as a pivotal moment in L.A.’s modern Mexican movement.

Providence, 5955 Melrose Ave, Hollywood, (323) 460-4170, providencela.com