Sunday, 23 October 2011


I have crazy idea: to write a book -- a novel, though I hate that word -- about a Mexican chef.
It's crazy because I'm not a chef and I'm not Mexican*.
This idea started when I first moved to Edinburgh ten years ago. I found that, contrary to my expectations, Mexican food was available (there was once even a Mexican restaurant across the street from my flat). But it was very different from the cuisine I grew up with in Southern California.
I had always thought of burritos as the prime Mexican dish, but in Britain they are rarely on the menu. Instead, the country is obsessed with fajitas, which I don't remember eating until I was a teenager.
My first thought was "This is not real Mexican food." Then, of course, I realized the food we eat in SoCal may not be authentic either.
Not long after that I discovered a brilliant Mexican deli at Tollcross called Lupe Pintos. They seem to have everything, including homemade tortillas (both corn and flour). I stocked up with provisions and started making my own Mexican food.
Alison, my wife, became very fond of burritos; however as that was all I ever made, it did get to be a bit same-y. I started wondering what else I could cook. Lupe Pintos have their own cookbook, called Two Cooks and a Suitcase (actually I believe they have more than one now). So one year for my birthday, Alison got me the book, and I began broadening my culinary horizons.
They idea for the novel, though came much more recently.
Last summer I was sitting in the Ivory and Willow in Corstorphine with Alison and our daugher Abby. I noticed they had nachos on the menu. A lot of British cafes and pubs serve nachos now (of greatly varying quality). I guess it's an easy dish to make, especially if you don't make your own tortilla chips, and it doesn't require any fancy presentation.
I started thinking about how most Mexican food in Britain is still pretty humble, and not very authentic. And basically, I came up with the plot -- about Mexican chef who seeks to elevate his national cuisine to Michelin-star quality -- by the time we finished our lunch.
But as I said, I'm not a chef, and I'm not Mexican. All my previous writing had been about me, more or less, but this project would require serious research.
So that's what this journey is about: learning how to cook real Mexican food and learning how to elevate it to fine dining. Along the way I'll report on how the book is going and any other culinary experimentations I attempt.
*Actually I do have some Mexican ancestry, but no more than many other Americans from the southwest are likely to have