It’s no secret by now that Mario Navarrete Jr. is one of my favourite chefs in the city. I love his take on Nuevo Latino cuisine and, I’ve said this before, I could probably survive on his ceviche -and its many variations- for the rest of my days. That being said, you can only imagine how excited I was to be invited to a private cooking demo at Raza a few days ago! To be learning from the man himself and eating a custom-made menu for the evening was very exciting for this foodie. Surrounded by a handful of other food bloggers, I sat down and was ready to take it all in.
Nuevo Latino cuisine is still fairly unknown in Montreal unfortunately and it is a real shame. It’s a cuisine that’s inspired and influenced by the many rich culinary cultures of Latin America reinterpreted and presented in a contemporary way. Mario Navarrete Jr’s cuisine is also very influenced by his Peruvian origins and that’s just fine by me because Peruvian cuisine is one of the most complex and flavourful ones in Latin America…
The first course of the evening was a regular cream of mushroom soup. No biggie you say? That would be true except that this one was a smoked cream of mushroom soup. The soup is poured into carafes to which a shot of apple wood smoke is added for 15 to 20 seconds. It gives the soup a light smokey flavour that does not overpower or stay in your mouth long after you’re done eating it. It’s also very cool to get a carafe of smoking soup at your table!
The second course was the one I was waiting for: the ceviche! The only other place where I’ve had a better ceviche than at one of chef Navarrete’s restaurants was at D Rodriguez in Miami, the restaurant by famous chef Douglas Rodriguez, the “godfather” of Nuevo Latino cuisine and one that Navarrete has cooked under. Ceviche is one of the easiest dishes to prepare in theory: combine fresh fish with lime juice and 5 minutes later, you have ceviche. However, chef Navarrete is a master at inventing new combinations of ingredients that make his ceviche always new, never boring. We had fluke ceviche that night, with garlic and lime juice, a jalapeño and serrano infusion, served on a bed of sweet potato purée with some squid ink. Absolutely delicious! And so gorgeous! Which is another remarkable thing about Mario’s plates: they are beautiful and so colourful, little pieces of art each time… Oh and I must mention here the excellent and home-made corn or sweet potato bread that’s served in every Mario Navarrete restaurant, absolutely addictive!
The third course was “The Garden” or Navarrete’s interpretation of pappas a la huancaína. Mashed potatoes with huancaína sauce, covered in “dirt” made up of dried and pulverized mushrooms with baby carrots and baby asparagus “sprouting” from it. A simple dish full of colours, perfect for spring! The huancaína sauce is a white sauce made with fresh cheese and it was delicious!
The fourth course involved the sous-vide machine that had been sitting on the counter since we walked in, next to another, noisy one that will come into play for the next course. Poached shrimp in butter with oxidized blue potatoes and pickled onions and radishes: this dish was again so very colourful and perfectly balanced in terms of texture and flavours. The sweetness of the shrimp and the potatoes played beautifully against the tartness of the pickles which lend their crunchiness to the overall smoothness of the dish. The blue potatoes are simply boiled, mashed then oxidized with lime juice until they turn a vibrant purple. The onions are pickled with beet juice and turn into a bright fuchsia hue… Gorgeous!
The pre-dessert was a jello – yes, a jello – but a jello of Jamaica flowers with a nice ruby coloured tint. The jello cubes were topped with frozen caps of mango and kiwi mixed with spinach and avocado. The caps were “cooked” on that second apparatus that was sitting on the table, the “anti-griddle”, a grill that freezes instead of cooking. Pour mango purée on the griddle and get mango frozen sorbet caps in seconds! Popsicle anyone?
Dessert was a tres leches cake made of a pound cake that was cooked in the microwave in 30 seconds! The pound cake is then dipped into a mix of 3 milks: condensed, evaporated and coconut, and served with a sugar cane ice cream and some chocolate and hazelnut shavings made by using maltodextrin. The chef showed us how to use the maltodextrin which absorbs fat molecules. It is mixed with the “nutella” until it absorbs all the fat then it’s shaved and sprinkled onto the dessert. The chocolate shavings have an interesting texture and melt in your mouth releasing all the fat molecules. A very interesting end to a very delicious evening…
If you go to Raza on any given night, you might be surprised to know that menus are non-existent there. The chef goes to the market everyday and creates a daily tasting menu according to the fresh and seasonal ingredients hat he finds. I personally love that because that is exactly how I like to order (or not order) in a restaurant of Raza’s caliber. I either always order the tasting menu or ask the chef to send out whatever he likes. I’ve never been disappointed so far and almost always end up with surprising dishes that aren’t even on the menu.
Read my posts on the two other Mario Navarrete Jr’ restaurants in Montreal: Madre and À Table
114 Laurier West
514 227 8712
Tuesday – Saturday 5:30pm-10pm