Hosting this years Taco Takedown, our very own Chairman Kaga, is Mary Luz Mejia. Food columnist, travel writer and cookbook nerd, Mary was kind enough to answer a few questions for us. Check them out below
You’re hosting Taco Takedown at our Hot & Spicy festival. What do you think it is about spicy food that brings people together?
Spicy food, like any food, is a uniting force. People of many cultures have used spices over the ages to either preserve and/or season their food- from Mexico to India, Thailand to Korea. Once you get past the names of dishes, it’s always fascinating to see how certain spices, peppers or other ingredients cross borders and become something new, with a unique culinary imprint of a particular region or country. What I love best about a good, spicy dish is never a “blow the roof of your mouth off heat;” those kinds of dishes I leave for daredevils who want to incinerate their taste buds. Instead, my idea of a well concocted dish with spice means it has depth of flavour, layers and nuances that bubble up to the surface, fade yet linger once the food on the plate has been devoured and all that’s left is a delicious memory.
Your work has brought you all around the world. Is there a cuisine that hasn’t caught on in Toronto that you’d urge people to try?
I’m beyond thrilled that Mexican food is making inroads in Toronto- this Taco Takedown is testament to that. What I’d love to see more of however, is Latin American food from Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama and beyond more widely represented here. The culinary traditions of these countries is varied, vibrant, and above all else, truly delicious. It’s my hope that taco by taco, tres leches cake by tres leches cake, the flavours of these countries begins to seduce Torontonians who travel and marvel at the world of flavour that they discover abroad and who long to have a bite of that back home. I think we’re ready for a little Latin magic!
Can you tell us about Reel Eats?
Reel Eats (@reeleats on Twitter) is an idea my husband and I had been playing with for months and that came to life one winter’s day over dim sum with friends Vanessa Yeung, her husband Domenic Ubaldino and another food industry friend, Sang Kim. Right now, it’s at the new born stage where we riff on the themes and dishes of a food-based movie via a curated, multi-course dinner and professional story tellers who enteratain diners with a tale that references the film. We’ve hosted five so far, with a special Reel Eats slated for late September. We’ve traveled to France, Taiwan, Italy and India via food, stories and film that have exposed audiences to really special dishes prepared by some of the best cooks and chefs working in Toronto today. It would be my dream to turn this into a mini film festival based on food-centric shorts where, like in Chicago and NYC, you literally “watch what you eat” as they say! A girl can dream….
You had 3 week internship at Dana McCauley and Associates’ test kitchens, what was the best recipe you came up with there?
I wasn’t responsible for creating dishes there, but I sure did test some. My favourite to this day, is Dana’s Christmas “Hermit Cookies” with dried cherries, nuts and warming spices. Every holiday season, I make a few batches upon request by my husband Mario who has dubbed this his “favourite” holiday treat (apart from a multi-layered, sherry soaked English trifle!)
What should the judges be looking for when they decide who wins Taco Takedown?
I’d suggest the judges take a look at the presentation of the dish- what does it look like on the plate because we always eat with our eyes first; keeping in mind of course that these chefs and cooks have to crank out 250 mini tacos in less than two hours- that’s a Herculean feat in itself! The harmony of the ingredients- is the flavour balanced? Did you enjoy eating it- why or why not? And most importantly of all, did it put a smile on your face because that’s what good food should always do.