It’s a pop-up in paradise. Noma, the Danish restaurant which was four times named the best in the world, has brought its hyper-local approach to food to Mexico’s Caribbean coast.
The temporary restaurant near the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum has an outdoor kitchen producing its own corn tortillas alongside such delicacies as octopus in pumpkin seed sauce, fresh coconut cream, and caviar served in a coconut shell and banana ceviche
But the seven-week run has provoked accusations of “gastronomical colonialism” for pricing its tasting menu at $600 US – plus 16% tax and a 9% service fee.
Mexico has a proud culinary tradition and its own culinary scene, but the minimum wage is less than $5 a day and almost half the population lives in poverty. And Noma chef René Redzepi has come under fire for launching a pop-up which his critics say is “in Mexico but not for Mexicans”.
“I sincerely think chef Redzepi’s project is gastronomical colonialism,” wrote Claudia Prieto Piastro, a food anthropologist, on HuffPost Mexico. “Charging $600 for dinner in a country that is experiencing an economic and social crisis tells us he has no idea of what is happening in the country he says he admires so much.”
In a New York Times interview last year, Redzepi attributed the high prices to bringing in a full-staff from overseas for seven weeks. The pop-up has also opened additional dining spaces at its bar – for a reduced $100 per person – and donated the proceeds to a Mayan charity. It has also offered scholarships for Mexican culinary students and offered them tickets to dine in its pop-up.
Not all the reaction in Mexico has been critical.
Rafael Mier promotes heirloom corn in a country where the corn-milling monopoly controls much of the market and churns out an industrialized product for use in most tortilla mills.
“It’s interesting that foreign chefs are taking an interest in Mexican ingredients,” said Mier, who introduced Redzepi to varieties of heirloom corn used in the pop-up. “It’s helping to give it wider acceptance.”
But others said that Redzepi, while sincere in his appreciation the country’s cuisine, was unwittingly enjoying Mexicans’ yearning for the approval of foreign celebrities.
“Redzepi discovered exactly what the early Spaniards discovered in Mexico: gold. The gold of our biodiversity, the gold of our year-round bounty of comestibles, the gold of our ancient willingness to take in the foreigner, our hospitality to new ideas,” said Cristina Potters, a Mexican citizen and long-time writer of the website Mexico Cooks!
“[Redzepi’s] creations look like miracles, and people are raving about the flavours. But it’s not Mexican food any more than Taco Bell is Mexican food,” she added. “Both are someone’s ideas of what Mexican food will sell: one on the extreme low end, and one on the extreme high end.”
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