When Paul Wilson travelled to Oaxaca in Mexico last year, it spelled the end of an era for a host of lacklustre Mexican restaurants around town. After the chef opened Acland St Cantina, it seemed that almost overnight Melbourne was being treated to a selection of sophisticated Mexican dishes not seen around town before – dishes that, above all, get to the heart of Mexican culture.
But the dissemination of new food cultures also requires a certain level of education. So together with Owen Smythe and Ricardo Amare of speciality food import business Mr. Mexico, Wilson is out to spread the word about his Oaxacan adventure and Mexico’s underappreciated treasures through Mezcal (a distinctively smooth and smoky spirit) and Mole (a rich sauce containing over 25 ingredients including dried chillies, spices, and tomatillos), an event that showcases these products in a Mexican cooking class, followed by a mezcal tasting and lunch sampling the famed seven moles of Oaxaca.
Chatting to Smythe and Amare, who are proud to be supporting the explosion of Mexican culture in Melbourne, the boys explain that it was a case of perfect timing when they launched their brand late last year.
“We noticed that everyone was opening Mexican restaurants, and with so many new tequilas and ingredients, people were starting to get really creative with their menus,” says Amare. “But we noticed that there aren’t enough new ingredients, so we went to Mexico and we’ve been able to bring some really crafted brands of tequila and mezcal home.”
While Mr. Mexico imports a variety of Oaxacan foods and spices, it is mezcal that they’re most excited about. “Mezcal is now really big in New York,” Amare continues in his thick Mexican accent. “It’s a craft product, bottled by hand – it’s an ancient tradition. We specialise in bringing it in.”
‘Pina’ is the wonderful Mexican name given to the heart of the maguey plant, a species of agave cactus that is commonly found in Central America. When heated in an oven, the plant’s pine forms the rich, smoky syrup that acts as a basis for Mezcal. In short, pine is to Mezcal as molasses is to rum and the Oaxacan love affair with the plant runs very deep.
But mezcal is yet to boast an audience like tequila in the developed world, and as Amare explains, it’s events like Mezcal and the Mole that aim to educate the public about the product.
“Mezcal is one of those spirits where you really need to educate people about the difference between it and tequila,” he says. “Basically, they both come from agave, but tequila is just from blue agave and mezcal is made from all types of agave. In the factories, they actually have donkeys that pull the big wheels to crush the plants. It’s very, very old school.”
In conjunction with the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Mezcal and the Mole is being held in the basement at Acland St Cantina this Sunday. Guests at the event will have the chance to sample some of Mr. Mexico’s finest imports, including a selection of mezcal and tequila never before seen in Australia.