The Clever Root

Spring / Summer 2016

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s p r i n g / s u m m e r 2 0 1 6 | 7 The Heart of Mexico "Mexican food is a cuisine people don't take seri- ously," Gaviria muses. "Chef Olvera gave it the ca- pacity to be fine dining, and took a simple ingredient like corn and said, 'You've never eaten corn. This is corn.'" Cosme's success—with heirloom masa specifically called out—spurred a wave of interest in corn imported from Mexico, grown by farmers who had never had the opportunity to have their product featured in a fine-dining restaurant in New York before Masienda brought it to the masses. Masienda imports around 20 varieties of land- race corn, from elotes occidentales from Jalisco to chalqueño from Oaxaca. "Landrace material is beyond heirloom," Gaviria explains. "It's been farmer-adapted over generations and has acclimated to specific growing's the gradual manifestation of a farmer's personal preferences— notably flavor." Comparable to micro-lots or grand crus in the coffee and wine industry, these single- origin varieties of maize are scarce and super-small production, and with four distinct growing regions, each with its own terroir and climate, the heritage corn varities offer modern-day chefs a veritable corn-ucopia of flavor. But Gaviria wants his corn to be accessible be- yond the white tablecloth crowd: "I want to promote easy access to these ingredients and make it acces- sible to anyone, whether it's Mexican immigrants in the U.S. who miss their family's home-cooked meal or high-end tortillerias. Everyone should be able to eat good food." Chef Ray Garcia first connected with Masienda when he was working at Fig Restaurant in Santa Monica, California. Introduced to Jorge Gaviria by Chef Tim Hollingsworth of L.A.'s Otium and Barrel & Ashes, Gaviria was one of the first people Garcia contacted when he opened Broken Spanish in 2015 in Downtown Los Angeles, a sophisticated Mexican restaurant that brings elegance to rustic dishes like tamales and chile rel- lenos. "Masa is the most fundamental ingredient in Mexican cooking," Garcia says as he sits in the sleek glass-walled room off the restaurant's main dining room, a contrast with the knitted doilies and framed pictures on the walls and tables. "And I wanted the best ingredients, the tastiest, the highest quality; what I would feed my family. At the time, Masienda was just expanding their distribution, and it was perfect timing." Garcia paired up with Chef Carlos Salgado of Taco María in Costa Mesa, and they bought corn from Masienda, where it's ground at Taco María ("More room," laughs Garcia, pointing to his full kitchen), then brought to Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria, Garcia's other L.A. venture. "It's difficult to find non-GMO corn out there, which is frustrating because it's the basis for so much of what we eat—and right now it's quantity over qual- ity. I don't want the same corn that's used in plastic bottles being used in my food." Now Garcia uses over 500 pounds of Masienda's corn a week, in dishes that vary from B.S. Taqueria's tortillas to Broken Spanish's tamales, including a hearty lamb neck version with king oyster mushrooms and queso Oaxaca, or a veggie option with summer squash, roasted poblano peppers and corn and their chochoyotes, masa and potato dumplings with a green garlic and pasilla sauce. CAL BINGHAM CAL BINGHAM From Corn to Chochoyotes at Broken Spanish Chef Ray Garcia of Broken Spanish in Downtown Los Angeles assembles a lamb neck tamale made with Masienda corn. (Inset) Chochoyotes: Masa and potato dumplings with a green garlic and pasilla sauce, topped with crispy potatoes and microgreens. PHOTO COURTESY OF MASIENDA Summer squash tamale with roasted pob- lano peppers and corn. Bolita maize from Oaxaca, Mexico. ■cr

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