Filled with passion for the regional cuisine of Mexico, where she was born and raised, the chef, now based in London, shares a festive dish taught to her by her aunt.
See Adriana’s bacalao a la vizcaina recipe.
Adriana Cavita’s favourite dish
Chef Adriana Cavita’s CV includes a stint at the fabled El Bulli, time in New York at the two-Michelin-starred Aska and a period at Mexico City’s Pujol, currently 12th on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. It is a glittering résumé.
But that time in the world of ambitious, high-end cuisine is only one part of the 34-year-old’s story. As the open-fire cooking and street-food influences at her new London restaurant attest, Adriana is also steeped in the grassroots food of her native Mexico.
Adriana chose a university gastronomy degree with a “super-unusual” focus on, “Mexico, Mexican cuisine, Mexican culture”, and has undertaken endless road trips to explore the complex ways agriculture and history have combined to shape Mexico’s diverse cuisine: “There are similarities but each region, Yucatán, Michoacán, Veracruz, has totally different flavours, recipes, moles, and street foods. It’s massive.”
This eagerness to learn previously led Adriana to spend six months in the Valles Céntrales of Oaxaca cooking with a friend’s mother, Juanita Amaya Hernández, to better understand that region’s rural home-cooking. That collaboration has fed both into the menu at her restaurant, Cavita (set to open in November) and a forthcoming book, Tierra y Humo. As Adriana puts it: “I am constantly learning.”
“Growing up, my family lived with an aunt and my grandma in Azcapotzalco in Mexico City. Grandma had eight children (her name was Pilar, meaning a pillar or foundation), and she always cooked to support herself. She sold street food, antojitos or small bites, from her house which had a little restaurant attached. She just opened the front door to people. That’s common in Mexico, even now.
“Grandma made quesadillas, tamales and was well known for huaraches (topped ovals of corn dough). People do huaraches differently now but my grandma’s were a corn dough with beans inside, fried in pork fat and topped with sauces, soured cream, meats and cheese. My mum was a doctor (grandma really pushed her kids to learn), and, when she was working, I spent a lot of my time with grandma. I’d help by passing her things or opening sodas for customers.
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“As a family, food is super-important to us. All my aunts and uncles know how to cook and, for family celebrations, I remember one uncle would make carnitas (shredded pork) and my mum makes a good mole de olla, which is like a big beef stew with dried chillies, vegetables and tortillas on the side.
“On special occasions and at Christmas, we’d gather at my grandad’s house in Tlaxcala state, about two hours from Mexico City. He had a farm with lots of animals, and as the family grew, there might be up to 45 of us there.
“We don’t celebrate much on Christmas Eve. You might have a small dinner at home with your partner but, for us, the main celebration would be on New Year’s Eve. That’s when we’d exchange presents, too.
“We’re a big family and Mexican Christmas dishes like roast turkey stuffed with pork mince, fruits and nuts or buñuelos, a dessert of deep-fried discs of dough with sugar and cinnamon, are serious work. To make it easier, we’d split the dishes. For example, one person would do ensalada de manzana, a salad of apple, pecan nuts, soured cream and either peaches or pineapple, and another would do romeritos, a dish that uses a leafy herb eaten with prawns and mole poblano.
“My aunt Margarita is the person who I cooked with most in the family. Her bacalao a la vizcaína reminds me of the festive period. It tastes even better the next day, especially if you’re a little hungover.
“On New Year’s Eve, we all start cooking together during the day, chatting and making piñatas or, in the last couple of years, my cousins have organised games like bingo. We have dinner around 10pm with all the food on one table, like a buffet. We eat a lot and there’s music, dancing and, because it’s cold at night in Tlaxcala, warm ponche (spiced fruit punch), sometimes with a little bit of tequila or mezcal in it.
“Just before midnight, it is traditional to eat 12 grapes in the last 12 seconds of the year and make a wish for each of the grapes. But it’s difficult – there are too many!”
See our Mexican recipe collection for more dishes.