By Alfredo Patiño and Neal Erickson
El Saber del Sabor Gastronomic Festival was celebrated in Oaxaca City last month. The first event of the Festival was an evening parade and dinner, and was followed by ten days of activities to promote and celebrate Oaxacan Cuisine. Chef Alejandro Ruiz, organizer of the event said, “Oaxaca has many things to offer. Architecture, ruins, culture, arts and crafts, and everything is accompanied by food, everybody eats, so why not celebrate it with a festival?”
It started under a Blue Moon on Thursday August 30th The exciting opening parade (Calenda) had a band, pyrotechnics, beautifully costumed traditional dancers, and dozens of local participants carrying lighted lanterns. Accompanied by a large viewing audience, the parade wound itself through the streets of Oaxaca, beginning at the church of Santo Domingo, stopping at the Plaza Alameda in front of the Cathedral de Oaxaca for a dance demonstration, and eventually ending with a final dance performance above the Plaza de la Danza. In the plaza, the Festival’s inaugural dinner was given under a tented area large enough to seat one thousand people.
As you approached the entry to the tent you passed rows of suckling pigs and chickens spitted on bamboo poles, roasting over banks of charcoal. Smiling, helpful volunteers were everywhere, welcoming the attendees and helping them to find their way to one of the 120 tables and point out the multiple food and drink booths set up around the perimeter of the seating area. Each food booth was dedicated to one of the eight regions of Oaxaca, and each had at least 3 or 4 dishes traditional to that region. The chefs, or cooks of each booth were chosen because of their special experience and skills in preparing that region’s cuisine.
Ten Mexican wineries were represented at the dinner as well. There were Oaxacan Mezcals; eight branded and ten Artisanal, and Bohemia was the sole beer sponsor of the evening. Once the guests were familiar with the food and drink choices available, there were sixty young men and women dedicated as wait staff to bring whatever was requested by the seated attendees. There was music playing and various presentations, awards and introductions from the stage throughout the course of the evening.
In one such presentation, Arnulfo Luengas, Executive Chef to the Banamex Group, was recognized for his work and contributions to introducing Oaxacan Cuisine to the world. This was the first year this award was given.
The festival’s calendar of events carried through ten more days of seminars and interviews with chefs, and wine, mezcal, food presentations and discussions at many Oaxaca locations. For st example, on September 1 , the Barrio de Jalatlaco held a free afternoon celebration of their traditions, games, products, music and food. Among the many seminars, two entitled “Tierra, Fuego y Cocina”, featured select chefs sharing their knowledge and everyday experiences working with assistants th in the food preparation business. On the 7 of September, the event “El saber del beber” was held at Palenque Mezcal Real Minero in Santa Catarina Minas, Ocotlan. The attendees were given the opportunity to sample mezcals and food traditional to the Ocotlan Valley.
To mark the end of each day, a special dinner was given at a different selected fine restaurant. The host chef of each restaurant worked with various guest chefs to provide a stunning culinary experience for every evening.
The Primera Cena (First Dinner, August 31) was at Origen in central Oaxaca (for an article about this restaurant, see the August 2012 issue of The Eye. Five delicious courses accompanied by select wines and choice mezcals provided an exceptional evening for those in attendance.
According to Maria Saldaña Julien, member of the Festival Committee and the director of logistics, Alejandro Ruiz and Graciela Cervantes conceived the idea for the festival in 2006, when they were invited to participate in the Gourmet Festival of Puerto Vallarta. The first El Saber del Sabor Gastronomic Festival of Oaxaca was in 2008, then beginning in 2010 it became an annual event, with 2012 being the fourth. Ruiz said, “We are already working on next year’s festival. It is going international, with three chefs known worldwide taking part in the event. Brazilian Chef Alex Atala from the restaurant D.O.M in São Paulo and Spanish Chef Ferran Adria from El Bulli in Catalonia have committed, and a third one is soon to be confirmed”.