Viva Mexico! – A Mexican Cuisine Extravaganza by Chef Lamberto Valdez (Part 1)

It’s quite common here that sometimes we know better about European or Japanese food rather than our own cuisine. No matter how cliché that may be, there are also two regional cuisines that we don’t really know much here in Indonesia. They came from Central America – mostly represented by Mexican cuisine, and the rest came from South America. I had small affairs with Colombian and Ecuadorian previously, but Mexican? Well, people would easily point either Chili’s or Amigos here in Jakarta or the current trending Taco Local, locally handcrafted by my tutor Mr Sebastian Subakti for Mexican.

As for the rest? Nobody really know or even care much about it compared with those mainstream cuisines. But after I met Chef Lamberto Valdez, I really had to let myself bedazzled with his culinary genius! How could I not? A wonderful ten course of Mexican cuisine tailored by the Chef personally with the added bonus of immense knowledge about the background of each one of these beauties. Hats off, Chef!

Chef Lamberto Valdez
Chef Lamberto Valdez

With his immense background in cooking for over 25 years, Mr Valdez appears young and dedicated. I can see through his conviction even before the lunch back in Bengawan – Keraton at The Plaza, Jakarta a month ago. He explained to me about his dishes he were about to present for us – totaling 10 majestic course, and he gave me some clues about it, during which I had to greet some friends I met there and he had to pause his explanations each time for a while, but that didn’t stop him from telling me more about his creations. I like that attitude!

Grew up in Acapulco, a place where people dream to be although Mr Valdez said there’s nothing special about it, the chef then went for a long-term culinary adventure back in the US after he had finished his apprenticeship. He’s climbing up to the top with Le Meridien, J.W. Marriott, and Sheraton. He was even cooking for prestigious personalities during his tenure back in The Ritz Carlton Florida. From there, his long affair with Starwood group started and lasts until now. Started from W Hotel in Doha, he worked alongside Jean-Georges and chosen by Alain Ducasse to oversee an important project. Now, he’s stationed in Westin Ubud – Bali and loaned to Keraton at The Plaza to showcase his talents temporarily.

Viva Mexico! last month was designed to introduce people with the richness of Mexican cuisine and a seasoned chef was assigned as the vanguard for this long standing heritage back since the Aztecs ruled the country. Let us fast forward to the first dish and also the beginning of a very long, engaging, and yet joyous lunch I’ve ever had in my whole life. Well, it lasted for almost 5 hours!

Classic Tortilla Soup
Classic Tortilla Soup

First was the Classic Tortilla Soup, thick and fresh, done in Aztec style and that means traditional. Corn, tortilla, chicken, tomato, cilantro, zucchini, and avocado all blended nicely. I happened to foolishly bite the whole Serrano chili (if I’m not mistaken with the species) and I had that burning sensation where my face became a bit sweaty and my glasses became foggy. So embarrassing but nobody saw it!

Guacamole with Tortilla chips
Guacamole with Tortilla chips

Secondly, Chef Valdez graciously presented us with the legendary guacamole done in two ways – first traditionally and the other one infused with chipotle (dried jalapeño). What made it so good, especially when you dip it with tortilla, was because of the high quality Hass avocado. Grown mostly in The States, Hass avocado was a variant of avocado found by a modest postman back in the beginning of 20th century and was originally ignored by people. Not until years later people then realized the mistake and it became one of the best avocado variants in the whole world plus it’s also one of the most expensive. Its buttery texture was just rich and Chef Valdez made it so right that I cannot let both of these green beauties gone wasted. By the way, Chef Valdez loves to add goat cheese in his dishes and this guacamole was one of them. He said it was a classic add-on for Mexican cuisine.

Stuffed Bellpepper with Alaskan King Crab
Stuffed Bellpepper with Alaskan King Crab

Next we got a really pretty dish. It’s a Ortega bell pepper, roasted with skins peeled and seeds removed, then filled with roasted fresh corns, Alaskan king crab, and goat cheese. The bell pepper itself was covered with egg whites and then pan-fried lightly. Salsa sauce was used as the dressing and there you go, a very heartwarming dish but light and appetizing. The bell pepper was not spicy at all and I just love the juicy texture combined with crab and corns.

Trio of Ceviche
Trio of Ceviche

For the fourth course, Chef Valdez prepared a dish not really originated from Mexico. It’s the Peruvian pride of Trio de Ceviche done in three ways – salmon with coconut, ginger, and lime juice; shrimps with lemon juice, red onions, cilantro, and lime juice; then tuna with yuzu, ginger, and lemongrass. Well, this trio came in colorful and inviting but I’d still go with the original version – which was the one with shrimps. The Japanese cuisine inspired tuna and the salmon with coconut were nevertheless, intriguing.

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In the next post, I will tell you more about the surprising creations of Chef Lamberto Valdez in three main courses plus two desserts. Oh my, that was so indulging and I gotta let you know that I drool (literally) while writing about this piece. Stay tune!

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To be continued

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