A few weeks ago Danielle Alvarez swapped the cool of the marble worktops and calm familiarity of her intimate open kitchen at Fred’s in Paddington for the heat, mystery and sensory overload that is Oaxaca, Mexico. Danielle, along with other top chefs from all around the globe were flown to one of the world’s most iconic culinary destinations to take part in the Krug Single Ingredient Program. We caught up with Danielle on her return and she shared some of her favourite stories and shots of the trip (as well as a secret recipe for the best guacamole she’s ever had).
First things first – what’s the Krug Single Ingredient Program all about?
“Krug champagne approached me a few months ago to see if I would be interested in coming along to this super fun trip. They’ve done something like this for the last few years, where they take a group of chefs from all over the world to a location that is the epicentre or origin point of a certain ingredient. We then use that ingredient as the inspiration to create a signature dish that is paired with Krug champagne,” Danielle explains.
Danielle and her fellow chefs hit the Oaxacan ground running, spending two jam-packed days exploring markets, meeting local chefs, tasting and creating with this year’s single ingredient – peppers.
“This was the first time Krug went anywhere outside of Europe, so it was really cool to go to Oaxaca, which is the birthplace of all peppers. Every pepper in the world is descendant of Oaxaca” – bet you didn’t know that! Another thing I didn’t know – it’s pronounced wa-haka (no wonder I was getting weird looks on my trip last year asking for bus tickets to ox-ass-ah).
When asked about her trip highlight, Danielle fondly recalls their host Abigail Mendoza Ruiz, the world’s most famous Zapotec chef. Mexico’s Zapotecs are an indigenous community in Oaxaca, and it’s Abigail’s mission to preserve their customs and cuisine, which she’s been doing for nearly 30 years at her restaurant, Tlamanalli, which she runs with her five sisters.
Abigail opened up her home to the group of chefs like they were family, teaching them traditional recipes and serving up a big communal feast. “They set up an incredible scene in the middle of the courtyard, cooking things like cactus and marinated meats straight on the coals. Her kitchen was amazing too, with open fires everywhere” Danielle recalls.
Mention Mexico to any foodie and you’ll set them off into a drooling daydream, so we had to know, what were Danielle’s three favourite things she ate over there?
Tortillas – ‘A freshly made tortilla from corn that has just been turned into masa (ground corn), you can’t compare it to anything you get in the grocery store. A proper tortilla needs to be made seconds before you eat it’.
Guacamole – ‘I had the best guacamole I ‘ve ever tasted. I asked woman what was in it and she said just a few crushed up green chillies, coriander, avocado and salt. No lime juice or anything. I asked her how it stayed green the entire lunch, she said they use avocados straight off the tree – that was a bit of a revelation for me’.
Cassava – ‘A younger experimental chef served us cassava (a root vegetable) that he grated and shaped like a bit of sushi rice for a nigiri. He put a piece of cured aloe vera on top and it just had all these fabulous textures’.
Finally, we had to know what Danielle ended up creating for her signature dish, and here it is…
‘Roasted pumpkin and grilled butternut squash with brown butter and chilli pumpkin seed salsa paired with Krug Rosé’
“From my perspective, this was all about creating something that’s delicious, inspired and just goes well with the champagne – it doesn’t have to be the world’s most perfect pairing. Chilli is something many people wouldn’t think goes with champagne, but we’re showing that’s not the case.”
For a limited time you can try Danielle Alvarez’s exclusive pepper dish paired with a glass of Krug.