Chefs and restaurants around the globe are raising the profile of Mexican cuisine with modern interpretations that honor Mexico’s culinary heritage by highlighting traditional methods and high-quality ingredients. One such ingredient — heirloom corn — is now easily accessible for the first time to chefs outside of Mexico thanks to the work of pioneering chef and entrepreneur Jorge Gaviria. His company, Masienda, helped create a market for Mexico’s ancient varieties of corn that chefs process in-house to create tortillas that are a cut above those produced with commodity ingredients.
Gaviria and chefs from two top Mexican restaurants in Washington, D.C., discussed how this high-quality corn helps support Mexico’s farmers and honor its culinary heritage at an event hosted last week by Smithsonian Associates. Washington Post food writer Joe Yonan led a panel discussion that began with an explanation by Gaviria of the ancient process known as nixtamalization, which softens the outer hull of hard field corn and allows it to be turned into nutritious masa. The process is time-consuming, but one that all the panelists agreed is well worth the effort.