Margarita Carrillo Arronte is one of Mexico’s best-known chefs and promoters of culture. The lifelong cook moved on from assisting her mom and grandma (they had her helping out as soon as she was tall enough to hover over the stove); her storied career includes work as a chef, TV personality, leader of the Slow Food Movement in Baja, culinary ambassador for the Ministry of Agriculture (from 1996 to 2006), and leader of the successful 2010 campaign to appoint Mexican cuisine as a UNESCO cultural heritage property.
She now has a new cookbook that explores regional fare throughout the country. As part of the release tour, Carrillo Arronte is stopping by New York. And you get to sample the recipes from the book at Café el Presidente (30 West 24th Street, Chelsea; 212-242-3491) throughout the week and at its Day of the Dead fiesta.
Covering areas spanning east to west and north to south, Mexico is a comprehensive bible of authentic home cooking. Over the course of two years, Carrillo Arronte traveled around meeting with friends and chefs, collecting recipes, and perfecting techniques.
Although the book is based on family recipes made from scratch, Carrillo Arronte tried to make it easy for those looking to break into Mexican techniques. “I simplified the recipes,” she says. “I tried to make them very simple, so people would really cook them.”
With a strong introduction on the history and evolution of Mexican fare, the book features 650 recipes that include all types of dishes: salads and starters, eggs, soups, fish and seafood, meat, vegetables, sauces, rice and beans, breads and pastries, and more. The snacks and street food section includes one of the oldest recipes, for tortillas, that has been passed down through Carrillo Arronte’s family. “I started making them first at home, with my mother and grandmother,” she says. “We would go to our hacienda for holiday. The women there were always preparing corn. I grew up cooking like this. It wasn’t an effort. It’s in my veins and spirit.”
Many of the recipes were devised or at least improved by Carrillo Arronte and her colleagues; however, she also included a section highlighting chefs who promote the fare in Mexico and across the world. “There’s something we call the commonwealth of Mexican cuisine,” says Carrillo Arronte. “It belongs to all of us — it’s popular recipes from all over Mexico.”
Jason DeBriere, executive chef of Tacombi, is one of the guest chefs featured; he compiled a selection of tacos from Oaxaca, Puebla, Chihuahua, and other regions of Mexico. As part of the book launch, DeBriere is offering a special menu series at Café el Presidente through November 2, with a new taco from a different state each day. The special culminates at the Día de los Muertos party on Saturday, November 1, from 7 to 10 p.m.
Tickets cost $60, and include a copy of Mexico: The Cookbook (list price $49.95), drinks by Casa Noble Tequila and Negra Modelo, a Day of the Dead tasting menu, and a performance by artist Cristina Kaminis. And a chance to meet the living legend, Margarita Carrillo Arronte, in the flesh — and get your copy of the book signed.