We recently had the pleasure of sitting with María Elena Lugo-Zermeño and Gerardo Vázquez-Lugo, winners of the 2018 Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award at Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. They gave us insight into the life-changing power of food, the importance of the “slow food” movement, and the one Mexican dessert everyone should try.
Have you seen food change people’s lives?
Gerardo: Some chefs have stories about how they don’t leave their work in the kitchen precisely because they found a radical change in their lives here. I arrived one day, an architect looking for work, and started working. I never noticed when my life changed. It was merely a routine process.
Maria: The restaurant, the kitchen – it’s a way of life.
Why do you think the slow food movement is so important?
Gerardo: We lived the slow food philosophy even before we first heard about the movement.
We believe in respecting the product, respecting farmers, having respect for the people who
transform the food and the consumers – good, clean and fair. This idea underpins Carlo
Petrini’s book. We’ve been linked to the movement since it came to Mexico.
Maria: It’s important to focus on the quality, and respecting the quality of the products from
the countryside. There are still small pockets in Mexico City where products come from –
Which flavor or ingredient would you say is your favorite?
Maria: I’d still say corn. In Mexico, the places where they sold tortillas have almost vanished. It became industrialized and the value of the product – the natural product – was lost. When big business stepped in, I think we lost the taste.
Gerardo: I’d agree with corn, because there’s more than just a single ‘corn.’ We have an impressive number – more than 60 corn varieties in Mexico, and many have different uses.
What are the different types of mezcal and how should we drink them?
Gerardo: Jeez. It’s pretty complicated. And we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg. The complexity of Mexican mezcal. In fact, tequila is a type of mezcal. Not vice-versa. There are different regions – different types of agave, different fermentation and distillation methods. Each one has a kind of secret recipe. The expert mezcal distiller has the knowledge – of the plant – and can transform it to the point where the nuances and complexity of the spirit is similar to wine. I’m still discovering new or wild agaves I’d never tried before. It’s a very complex matter – and how should we drink them?
A friend of mine once told me that the technique for drinking mezcal was like kissing. You need to hold the cup, and with your lips kiss the edge and take little sips, so you enjoy it nice and slowly.
Which Mexican dessert should everyone try at least once?
Gerardo: Prickly pear.
Maria: The prickly pear products are delicious and completely unknown in several countries. We have a wide variety of prickly pears, which are used to produce sub-products. For example, in central Mexico they use an extract from a variety of prickly pears locally called cardona to make a drink called colonche. It’s a delicious fermented drink.
Do you prefer fine dining or street food?
Gerardo: Fine dining. Mexican food – home cooking – is, in my opinion, fine dining.
Maria: I didn’t know how to eat street food. I didn’t know how to go to restaurants. Everything was done at home.
Sweet or savory?
Maria: I love savory things, too.
Brunch or dinner?
Wine or cocktails?
A big party or an intimate gathering?
Maria: An intimate gathering.
Gerardo: Intimate gathering.
Looking to experience one of their mouth-watering dishes in person? Visit the world-renowned Nicos Restaurant in Mexico City, Mexico, and be sure to take advantage of your Diners Club® Hotel Privileges while you’re there.