Mexican Cuisine

The creator of Mexico’s New Yucatan cuisine, Roberto Solis — makes people fall in love with the Mayan culture

The third Hokol Vuh ended recently at the SAN Lorenzo Ac Estate in Yucatan.

Located northeast of the Yucatan capital, this ancient manor is one of the most important sites for understanding the Mayan civilization. Hokol Vuh was founded by two famous chefs, Roberto Solis and Rene Redzepi, In partnership with Fundacion Haciendas del Mundo Maya (a non-profit foundation dedicated to the discovery, dissemination and promotion of the natural and cultural wealth of the Maya) and the local Mayan community, they share their passion for the Yucatan Peninsula and their love for the cuisine of the existing Mayan community with the world.

(Roberto Solis: Creator of neo-Yucatan cuisine, he has dedicated his life to revaluing and promoting the traditional ingredients of the Yucatan Peninsula. He is also the founder of Nectar and Huniik.) (Rene Redzepi: Owner and Chef of Noma since 2004, leading the team that has helped the restaurant reach No. 1 in 50Best five times.) The Yucatan Peninsula, located in southeastern Mexico, has a tropical climate and its main crops include corn, sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, palm and sisal. There are many ruins of Maya civilization in the area, which is one of the cradles of ancient Maya civilization. A total of 18 internationally renowned chefs were invited to the event, and they were either ranked in the “50Best” or recognized by the international Michelin judges. The chefs came to the site to learn about the Mayan civilization and create a variety of dishes using the crops and animals featured here. The event also helped the chefs create new ideas for future creations.

Born in Merida, Mexico, Roberto was exposed to the food and wine culture in the United States as a young man and returned home to intern in the kitchen of Fiesta Americana Hotel, where he met his first partner. They decided to venture into the food world together and bring fresh culinary ideas to Merida, launching Nectar, a restaurant.

Nectar went on holiday during The summer months, when locals tend to retreat to the seaside, and Roberto used the break to study at The Fat Duck, where he got his first taste of cutting-edge cooking and modern ideas. He spent the summer in Noma (Copenhagen), Perse (New York) and Narisawa (Tokyo) learning cooking skills, understanding ingredients and interpreting local culture…… After years of study, Roberto has transformed from an amateur three-legged cat to a professional chef. Combined with his own ideas, he has the idea of promoting the food and culture of his hometown — Yucatan.

He has split from his original companions and gone on to run Nectar, but this time he has revamped the menu, which he calls the “new Yucatan”.

The new menu celebrates the products and food culture of Yucatan, including local flowers, spices, and animal resources. It also draws on the harvest of his years in other countries. Tempura Onions flavored with black recado (a spice mix based on carmine seeds, Mexican oregano and Moroccan coriander seeds) and xcatik (a chili) mayonnaise; Yucatan grilled octopus with coconut sauce, yogurt and hummus; banana leaf tamales with coconut ice cream, to name a few. The new Nectar has garnered global attention and Roberto has been named the great creator of the new Yucatan cuisine.

As he continued to explore and grow, he opened a new restaurant, Huniik, across from Park Santa Ana in the city center, with architecture and interior design by Cuban artist Jorge Pardo, and heavy use of Mayan decor, Examples include ropes, nets and floor MATS made from local palm trees and sisal, and ornaments carved from coconut shells. Roberto is very concerned about the feelings of the diners, so there are only 16 seats in the restaurant. Not only can the diners observe every move of the chefs during the preparation of the food, but he also actively interacts with the diners, asking them how they feel about the meal and sharing their views on the local culture. Here, diners can sip Mexican wine while tasting specialty dishes, enjoy stunning views of Santa Ana Park, and banter with knowledgeable and attentive waiters…… Later, in 2017, Roberto and longtime friend Rene Redzepi founded Hokol Vuh, taking the process of promoting local Mayan culture and “neo-Yucatan cuisine” a big step forward. It was also at this event that a whole new trend took off. Tacos are traditional Mexican foods that are now found in every corner of the globe. Roberto debuted innovative tacos called “al pastor” at the Hokol Vuh event. Traditionally, a seed called achiote is used to mix cumin, black pepper, oregano and lemon juice to make seasonings for meat and seafood. This time, he took inspiration from the black skin of roasted peppers to create a new sauce called Recado Negro, based on traditional Yucatan salsa. The sauce gives the meat its pitchy skin and unusual flavor, and Roberto was even interviewed by Netflix for the so-called “Taco Chronicles” food documentary. (The black sauce contains spices, anchovy chili, garlic, cloves, five-spice powder, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, carmine orange and white vinegar, according to Mexican Authentic Recipes.)

The Hokol Vuh is now three years old, with many events where chefs experience local life and learn about local specialties like Creole corn, Celestun salt and Melipona honey. Chefs visit the daily lives of local beekeepers, picking golden corn and tasting Celestun salt, made using an ancient local salt-making technique, and tamales flavored with it…… Explore the ancient pyramids, ask locals what they think, live and hope for, and learn how they weave palm and sisal…… As Roberto likes to say, “The real way to promote a culture is to make the person who comes here love it, and when he leaves, he’s eager to talk about what he saw and what he felt, and that’s it.

 

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