Chef's Table, streaming on Netflix for six seasons so far, aspires to elevate the chef as an artist and bring the rarefied sphere of gourmets and foodies to a wider audience. Each episode features a chef who typically conveys their experience of food in the language of tradition and authenticity. The opening credits sequence deploys delicate visual elements extracted from the season against the musical backdrop of Max Richter's recomposition of Vivaldi's L'Inverno.1 The soundtrack is telling. Richter brings a foundational piece of classical music to the neoliberal mediasphere through deconstructive technique and forceful performance in much the same way that the most influential contemporary chefs execute their work. The best episodes exhibit this trend, from Massimo Botura's quest to modernize the orthodox food scene in Italy to Gaggan Anand's development of molecular technique within Indian food.

The show presents chefs as cultural heroes who, after a journey of self-discovery, challenge the limits and orthodoxies of national, regional, and global gastronomic tradition. Peruvian Virgilio Martínez, for instance, is represented as an outsider who was never fully comfortable either with classical training at Le Cordon Bleu or the first wave of new Peruvian cuisine led by Gastón Acurio. Martínez finds space for innovation by exploring the biodiversity of Peru's ecosystem alongside his sister Malena, a natural scientist, to develop a menu that represents the ecosystems of Peru's different geographical altitudes.2 Most episodes conclude by displaying a succession of images and names of the dishes featured in the episode, performing the semiotics of the art gallery. The show develops a narrative in which an individual chef presents collective knowledge and practices, typically (but not always) from the world of haute cuisine a chef who acquires status and prestige as a representative of a national tradition.

Enrique Olvera best embodies this process. Olvera has spearheaded a transformation of the Mexican fine dining scene and various practices of food capitalism in Mexico. In the documentary, we see Olvera evolve from a run-of-the-mill chef who uses Mexican ingredients through French technique to become a savant practicing with Oaxacan indigenous and regional traditions such as the milpa method of harvesting corn, or Olvera's landmark work, mole madre, which replicates the technique of sourdough starters (called masa madre in Spanish) but for mole sauce. His most popular dish consists of a circle of freshly made mole surrounded by the mole madre, reconstituted daily such that in early 2020 it was more than two-thousand days old. Eaters at Pujol, his flagship restaurant in Mexico City, where it is served, are provided with handmade blue heirloom corn tortillas plastered with a round piece of hoja santa, a Oaxacan traditional variety of Piper auritum.3 This dish has earned Olvera a global reputation as a genius, leading to the recognition of Pujol as the best restaurant in North America in 2019 in San Pellegrino "World's 50 Best" ranking.4 Olvera's ascent turned him into a leading advocate of Mexico's heirloom agriculture, an influential innovator of Mexico's cuisine, and a partner in influential restaurants like Cosme in New York City, where Daniela Soto-Innes became the youngest recipient of the World's Best Female Chef award, and Criollo in Oaxaca, where Luis Arellano improvises the menu daily based on local market offerings.

Chef's Table depicts gastronomy as an art of the present at least until COVID-19 provoked what may turn out to be an extinction-level event in the industry. But the idea of gastronomy as art is not new. Prior to the 1970s, it was largely tied to the French tradition. Patricia Parkhurst Ferguson traces the history of "culinarity" at the level of cuisine (cooking) and gastronomy (consumption and material practice) to post-Enlightenment France, where it emerged as an autonomous field, much as other arts in the same period.5 The chef as a genius and the menu as his creation emerged alongside social practices of the restaurant and dining out.6 Technological advancements diversified the repertoire of techniques and the expansion of capitalism increased the availability of ingredients.7 Ultimately, culinary arts became closely identified with the French.8

The world cuisine idealized in Chef's Table has been shaped by the acceleration of capitalism in the neoliberal era. The acceleration expresses itself in culinary plurality: chefs have gradually broken from Francocentrism, pursuing instead, say, California cuisine identified with Jeremiah Tower, Alice Waters, and Wolfgang Puck or more radical scenes like that around Ferran Adrià and El Bulli in Catalonia, or new Nordic cuisine, led by René Redzepi and his restaurant Noma in Copenhagen.9 Biased by my own expertise, I spotlight Mexico. Unlike European haute cuisine or the culinary heritage of Japan, Mexican cuisine had not been valued as artistry in the transnational sphere until the arrival of Enrique Olvera and his cohort.

Five processes came together in the twentieth century to form what we know as Mexican food: the legacies of cultural Francophilia from late nineteenth-century elites; the rise of culinary nationalism in the wake of the Mexican Revolution; the strong influence of cultural Americanization and US industrialized food; the resilience of culinary traditions dating back to pre-Columbian and colonial times; and the productive tensions between the idea of a national Mexican food and the complexity and diversity of regional and diasporic traditions.10 Mexican food is highly regional, depending on local ingredient availability and patterns of cultural practice, which vary wildly.

Generally speaking, though, the experience of eating in Mexican cities since the 1980s can be described as "hybrid": entailing "strategies for entering and exiting modernity" as a matter of everyday life.11 In Mexico City, ubiquitous chains like the storied Sanborns, which draws from the French café and the American diner, are woven into the everyday life of the middle class. Iconic dishes include their "Swiss enchiladas," covered in a green chile and cream sauce and served au gratin, and tecolotes: bolillos (one of Mexico's French-style breads) smothered with butter and refried beans and covered with red and green chilaquiles.12 As for street food, tacos and other antojitos (the generic term for fried corn masa foodstuffs) coexist with rotisserie chickens and hamburgers. Fast food and sit-down restaurant chains from the United States (from McDonald's and Domino's to Olive Garden and P.F. Chang's) are ubiquitous. Mexican taquería chains like El Califas and El Tizoncito do very well, as do unique franchises like Sushi-Itto, a purveyor of maki rolls with ingredients like roasted chiles and plantain, or El Bajío, built on the Veracruz-centered cuisine of Carmen Ramírez Degollado "Titita." Many old-school high-end restaurants offer hybrids of traditional European and Mexican dishes, such as the famous zucchini blossom soup with puff pastry at Hacienda de los Morales, or the goat-cheese stuffed chicken breast with Oaxacan coloradito mole at El Cardenal. It is hard to find another country in Latin America where the national food traditions manifest themselves so strongly alongside an equally strong globalized food ecosystem.

As late as the 1980s, Mexican food failed to garner outside recognition as a culinary art. Jean François Revel's 1979 book, Un festin en paroles, dismissed Mexican food as the product of a poor country that lacked the wealth necessary for the development of a gastronomical tradition. Cookbook writers of the time presented it as Spanish food dressed with chilies.13 Early recognition, as is the case in many Global South culinary locations, fixated not on artistry, but rather, and questionably, on authenticity. Diane Kennedy was one of the first to challenge the dismissal of Mexican food through the idea of the authentic, and to rescue the diversity of Mexican food for Anglophone and Mexican audiences. She developed encyclopedic research, particularly on traditions of home cooking, beginning in the late 1960s. Her work paved the way for other foreigners who have translated Mexican food for transnational contexts, such as Rick Bayless.14

The narrative of Mexican food has been reconfigured by neoliberal haute cuisine. Mexico's various food meccas Mexico City, Oaxaca, Yucatán have developed major restaurants that feature the radical innovation of local cuisines and reshape them into gastronomic artistry. Olvera's Pujol in Mexico City and Pedro Evia's Kuuk in Mérida invoke "elevation," the translation of everyday food practices and working class and rural traditions into haute cuisine and culinary heritage. The idea of elevation implies that everyday culinary practices are lowly, not art. But an essential component of the entrance of Mexican gastronomy into the neoliberal arts is the radical reconfiguration of popular food practices as complementary and even superior forms of artistry, against the erasures brought by globalization and Americanization.

In Teotitlán del Valle, a town in Oaxaca, Abigail Mendoza helms Tlamanalli, working within the most traditional canons of regional technique, which has turned her, a Zapotec woman, into one of Mexico's most influential chefs.15 In Mexico City, the taco al pastor is at the core of a careful artistic praxis in street stands, the mastery of which is on display at the taquerías alongside Lorenzo Boturini Avenue, or at the famous El Vilsito, all recently featured in Netflix's Mexican series, The Taco Chronicles.16 Elite cuisine and street food are codependent: higher-end Mexican chefs would never have reached recognition without engaging popular and traditional practices, while street food has enjoyed renewed success fueled by the public enthusiasm from chefs in food media. Olvera's guide to Mexico City, published by Food & Wine magazine in 2017, features the stalls at Mercado San Cosme (which, tragically, burned down in December of 2019), the historic taquería Los Panchos, the cult early-morning eatery Fonda Margarita, and the historic bakery La Gran Vía, alongside some of the most avant-garde places in town, such as Quintonil and Maximo Bistrot.17 Contemporary Mexican cuisine and gastronomy realize their artistry through the dialectic relationship between popular savoir faire and elite avant-gardist interpretation.

Olvera's success resulted from his transition from his French training to a focused engagement with popular culinary arts, particularly those from Oaxaca. Historically, the term "art" referred in Mexico, as it did everywhere else, to the culture of the elite, while "crafts" and "folklore" were invoked to name the purportedly lesser works of artisans and other lower-class creators. In the wake of the Mexican Revolution this distinction was challenged, and members of the intellectual class, including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, were influenced by artesanías, while the state brought crafts to museums, auction houses, and other elite art spaces in an attempt to democratize cultural production.18 Under neoliberalism, as inequality intensifies, and as local traditions of craft are threatened by industrialization and the removal of state protection, the exchanges between high and popular culture take different shapes. There have been a variety of low-quality appropriations of the popular arts for commercial purposes, for example, particularly related to the imitation of Mexican craft aesthetics for tourist souvenirs.

Contemporary haute cuisine produces a different exchange. The dynamics of inequality create situations in which the most complex traditions and the best quality ingredients are accessible only in rarefied upper-class spaces or in marginalized lower-class spaces. Heirloom corn tortillas are typically available either in a luxury venue that goes to great lengths to produce it, or in a peasant community that produces the corn and has no access to industrial forms of production. Because of the peculiar effects of inequality in culinary preservation, popular and elite forms of expertise have a dialectical and often conflicted relationship to each other, undermining simplistic notions of symbolic value.

Tacos provide a good example. Olvera recognizes the mastery among street vendors but also aims at radical reformulation. One of his first successes was his suckling lamb barbacoa taco, a take on the tradition of slow-cooked lamb from central Mexico. The taco has at its core a simple barbacoa marinated in adobo, but adopts variants that depart from tradition, from lacing the corn tortilla with poblanos, using a purée of peas and avocado in lieu of chile salsa, and replacing the onion and cilantro with microgreens, charred scallions and, most provokingly, a sliced zucchini flower.19 Olvera recognizes the flavor and texture resulting from street-food techniques, and he seeks to use haute cuisine techniques to achieve similar outcomes with different ingredients. In his cookbook Mexico from the Inside Out, he renders visible the process that went from his own memories of popular forms of tacos, through the reconstruction of every step in the creation of the taco form, in a performance that emphasizes every detail of its journey from its lower-class origins to its elite performance.

Olvera talks about the taco with the vocabulary of art: "Since 2008, I've delved into the taco's form and taken it from the streets to Pujol. We understood that if we would dare to revise a traditional culinary reference as such, we should provide something more complex, so that our diners would perceive it just as delicious as any other delicacy."20 One could imagine Max Richter describing his recomposition of Vivaldi the same terms. Olvera's taco achieves the simultaneity of popular food and haute cuisine through elements common to both. Rather than negating the popular taco, it emphasizes it to enhance its visibility. The lush photography in Mexico from the Inside Out, with copious full-page photographs of markets, street stands and rural areas, celebrates a shared genealogy and agreeable coexistence rather than blending or overcoming. At the same time, the narrative leading to the taco section painstakingly describes every small formal and technical quest behind dishes like the barbacoa taco, emphasizing the careful artistry. Olvera concludes his reflection by citing mid-century Mexican writer Salvador Novo a celebrated gay author and bon vivant who served for years as the official public historian (or cronista) of Mexico City. Olvera writes: "We like to imagine ourselves 'composing' tacos and making them our own. To honor an observation made by Salvador Novo: Tacos are 'a simultaneously enjoyable combination of music and accompaniment.'"21

Recently, Olvera adapted the Japanese model of omakase to tacos and antojitos. Omakase, which refers to a Japanese chef's choice model of multi-course dining, has become popular in the global culinary scene, popularized in the Americas by, among others, Nobu Matsuhisa, Masa, and Niki Nakayama, who was also featured on Chef's Table. Olvera's January 2020 omakase menu, which I had the opportunity to eat in the restaurant, featured two tacos with decidedly transpacific elements: a kampachi taco with avocado and nori; and a rockot taco with hoja santa and kimchi (the rockot is a vermillion rockfish from the Pacific Ocean coast off Baja California). The menu also includes a gringa (meat al pastor with cheese in between two flour tortillas) replacing the traditional pork with lobster, a chicharrón gordita with sea urchin, and an enmolada (a tortilla with Olvera's famous mole madre). Every item is a recomposition of a recognizable antojito, hailing from diverse geographical regions. Pujol's omakase exemplifies the codependency between neoliberal haute cuisine and popular practice in Mexico.

Some implications of neoliberal haute cuisine in Mexico become relevant under the light of these examples. It is important to set aside ideas about the intermingling of high and low culture derived from US-informed ideas of modernism and postmodernism. The relationship between high and low here is not solely about the erasure of the difference between the two, or a revaluation of the popular. Olvera's cuisine does not erase aesthetic or social distinctions. It intensifies them by creating a thoroughly elitist experience of Mexican food that has no pretense of democratization or performance of the vernacular. Yet, neoliberal art practices, as represented by Pujol, and popular cuisine, such as that created in Tlamanalli, share a common project of the preservation and development of Mexican tradition, notwithstanding the considerable differences between their social spaces. Their commonalities in defining and preserving tradition and technique, in advocating for biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, and in documenting cultural knowledge have common enemies: industrial agriculture, Americanization, corporatization, and other toxic effects of free trade. Neoliberal haute cuisine supports local agricultural economies. As a neoliberal art, gastronomy operates in a space of intense social inequality and its aesthetic and social effects can only be understood in relation to the injustices brought by free trade and gentrification.

A recent column by Olvera reveals how the idea of artistry and the conditions of its production rest upon inequitable premises.22 Olvera argues against the idea that the customer is always right. The article's core narrative is that of the Mexican customer who goes to a restaurant like Pujol and asks for chiles toreados (a condiment of roasted serranos or jalapeños fried and mixed with soy sauce and lime) to put on top of his carefully crafted dish. Olvera presents this as disrespect for the craft, and his refusal to comply as a way to protect the quality of the customer's experience. The column is tone-deaf in many ways, including in its suggestion that waiters could fear for their jobs due to the wrath that such requests cause in the kitchen, or in its disparaging of people who enjoy lime juice in sushi, a common enough practice. The column elicited blowback on social media, including questions about the value of his food, his role in gentrification, his own modifications to traditional Mexican food, and the race and class dynamics embodied in his haute cuisine model.

We have, then, a contradiction. Olvera at once shines light on rural traditions and popular foodways and dismisses those he believes beneath him. He imbues high economic value to Pujol by disparaging everyday culinary practices (like popular forms of condimentation) in the name of elitist value. But he also criticizes the neglect of Mexico's rural farmers, and the impact of agroindustry on the gastronomical experience and the life of peasants. 23 The contradiction of the neoliberal art of gastronomy emerges in its critique of some toxic effects of capitalism, while it benefits from the inequality of neoliberalism, including urban gentrification and the shifting of the cultural value of popular production to elite producers and consumers.

Class, race, and gender ensure inequities within the common struggle against the alienating effects of neoliberal capitalism shared by the contemporary popular and neoliberal haute cuisines. Writing about a figure like Olvera entails, as Kyla Wazana Tompkins has lucidly noted, "unconscious investments in the commodity itself." Moreover, the foodie culture to which chefs like Olvera appeal is based in "white, bourgeois, urban subject positions," which develop a sense of "mastery" over traditional food cultures, particularly when these cultures are "performed through romanticized and insufficiently theorized attachments to 'local' or organic foodways, attachments that at times suspiciously echo nativist ideological formations."24 Yet these phenomena manifest differently in Mexico given that the dynamics of racial and class inequality there, while severely real, do not operate within the same segregational logics as in the US.

The close binding of Mexican cultural nationalism with the ideologies of mestizaje and indigeneity have created over time a long history of fluid circulations between popular and high culture, and the consolidation of frameworks of national belonging that accommodate elements from European, indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures, as well as immigrant and mixed heritages. The use of popular music in symphonic compositions or of pre-Columbian iconography in avant-garde murals as well as globalized "hybrid cultures," as Néstor García Canclini terms the interactions between popular, media, and high culture in the early neoliberal era have entailed elite appropriation as much as they have enabled articulations of resistant subjectivities.25 Such mingling is a defining feature of Mexican cultural modernity. Chefs like Olvera and peasant communities supported by the economics of heirloom agriculture are bound in the pursuit of both economic and artistic outcomes. But unlike revolutionary art, which aimed at merging those traditions into a single national culture, in neoliberal culture, the distinct and profoundly unequal social configurations are fully internalized and rendered visible, rather than sublimated into a homogenizing art form.

Olvera's elevation of Mexican food to the status of culinary art has played a significant role in the larger resistance to the devastating effects of NAFTA and the acceleration of agroindustrial consumption. The takeover of large parts of the market by US agrobusiness and the vast encroachment of the chain food and convenience store industries into everyday Mexican foodways has resulted in the decimation of traditional rural economies, the exodus of millions of peasants, the exponential growth of undocumented migration to the US, and the explosion of obesity and diabetes in Mexican and Mexican American communities.26 Discussions of these problems sometimes leads to a nostalgic position that advocates the restoration of traditional agricultural systems like the milpa, recognizing the importance of indigenous knowledges and ways of life, but reproduces stereotypes of indigenous people as pre-modern, rather than understanding their lives as fraught by capitalism, modernity, and coloniality.

The cultural and social advocacy of corn is a central aspect in the aesthetics and ideologies of Mexican neoliberal culinary art, with Olvera as one of its key actors. As Erica Simmons notes, "the interplay between regional and national, campesino and haute cuisines highlights commonalities that already exist."27 In Simmons's account, this commonality creates ways to understand how markets endanger both material and symbolic worlds, thus opening the path to forms of political contention and organization. This unexpected alliance takes place because, "as a result of the mechanization of the tortilla-making process, the handmade tortilla has become a marker of both the Mexican elite and of rural life."28 In turn, haute cuisine chefs like Olvera and their interlocutors across foodscapes and supply chains have deployed the cultural and symbolic value of corn and various techniques of preparation as forms of political advocacy and economic solidarity with rural communities whose lives are structured around heirloom corn. Crucially, these ideas of value are supported by culinary artistry, as the symbolic capital of heirloom agriculture is presented as a condition of possibility for aesthetic and sensorial achievement.

The social network involved in the new forms of socioeconomic practices around heirloom cornits commodity circulation and its aesthetic value includes initiatives like Masienda, which buys surplus grain from subsistence farmers to distribute in US restaurants, while teaching the technique known as nixtamal, by which corn is enriched with limestone to make masa. Another example is the restaurant Itanoní in Oaxaca, whose Mixtec owner, Amado Ramírez Leyva, deploys his community's technical and artistic knowledge regarding corn to develop "a crucial site of sociality where politics emerges as an ethical position that informs social relations in daily life, as well as in popular struggles for social justice," through a "profound rethinking of the market-based models of profit and trade that lie at the heart of capitalist understandings of food policy."29 The corn used in Pujol comes from similar cooperatives, and the omakase service includes a tetela, a Oaxacan antojito for which Itanoní has also gained recognition. In addition, Pujol was serving in 2019 and 2020 a "Maíz" prix fixe, which included dishes like a Oaxaca-style tlayuda and a Yucatán-style papadzul, along with a dish heavily featuring huitlacoche, the black fungus from corn considered both a traditional food and a delicacy in Mexico. Olvera's recent forays tie him to these chains of shared knowledge and economics. In developing supply chains and cultural products with heirloom corn, his enterprise has become indispensable for the economic support of farms affected by the dumping pricing practices of transnational agribusiness and contributes to the visibility of struggles related to the alienating effects of capitalist food production and the fight for food sovereignty. Both of these processes rely strongly on the notion that the artistry in the gastronomy of corn requires biodiversity and traditional methods of harvesting, an ilusio necessary to provide this corn with use value that helps it survive its inability to prevail in corporate-centered structures of exchange value.

The "art" in neoliberal culinary art manifests at various levels: technique, aesthetic, and even framing and exhibition. During my trips to Mexico in June 2019 and January 2020, I visited Pujol in its new location to try the "Maíz" menu and the omakase. The architectural experience of the restaurant mirrors the attention to form, aesthetics, and capital central to Olvera's work. Nested in Polanco, one of Mexico City's wealthiest neighborhoods, Pujol's new dining room was completed in 2017. The venue is a mid-century house, redesigned by a team comprising architect Javier Sánchez, designer Micaela de Bernardi, and agro-ecologist Lily Foster, who provided the restaurant with a minimalist open-concept aesthetics that counterpoints Olvera's presentation. The restaurant is punctuated with art by Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo, focused on new generations of Latin American artists, and furniture designed by De Bernardi and Eduardo Prieto and provided by the Los Angeles-based studio Artless. Artless, founded and directed by designer Alejandro Artigas, defines its work on its website with a manifesto that notes its use of "Buddhist strategies and punk tactics" and its belief in "the Modern project," a clear departure from the dark, traditionally-conceived dining room of its original site, which was, in my view, dissonant with the increasingly punctilious crafting of the food and imbued with a Eurocentric fine dining ambience that long stopped corresponding with Pujol's Mexico-centered project.

Framed by this space, dining in Pujol makes palpable the achievements and pitfalls of neoliberal art. As with most high-concept restaurants in Latin America, the price is far higher than most Mexicans can afford. At about 160 dollars per person plus drinks during my visit, the meal equals the value of a month of minimum wage labor in Mexico. The table service and the omakase bar feel like opening day of an elite art gallery, where one is surrounded by a mix of the national upper class and foreigners from around the world drawn to the restaurant's experience. All this is palpably extraordinarily undemocratic.

Just as symptomatic of neoliberal art, Olvera has been a recognized mentor and supporter of at-risk youth and deported migrants who worked in his restaurant and then became chefs and owners.30 An example is the acclaimed chef Eduardo García of Máximo Bistrot, who worked in the US fields as a crop picker and went to work in Pujol after being deported from the US in 2017. Another is Daniela Soto-Innes, who has emerged as one of the leading chefs in the US. At age twenty-three, after working in Pujol's pastry department, she moved to New York to helm Cosme in partnership with Olvera, a partnership that later expanded with another successful restaurant, Atla, and the planned Elio in Las Vegas.31

You can see the effects of Olvera's ideas and mentorship, as well as the fraught social dynamcs that make them possible, in Pujol itself. The restaurant's highly trained staff renders visible in its microcosm the complexities of Mexico's brutal economic inequality. The neoliberal arts, gastronomy first and foremost, may be indefensible given how they embody these logics. Still, within Pujol, and its fraught social relations, there exists an infrastructure to rethink the NAFTA-induced devastation of Mexican foodways.

In the Pujol bar, as I was learning an encyclopedic amount of information about mezcales and heirloom food ingredients from my erudite server, I thought about my experiences eating in Oaxaca and in Mexico City's street stands. Many significant elements of Mexico's foodscapes have survived the barrage of NAFTA policies at the extreme ends of the country's inequality. Normally, it is difficult to eat corn tortillas made of something other than the dried masa popularized by Maseca's quasi-monopoly, a product that has undermined the quality and nutritional density of Mexico's most important food staple. And yet, in January, I ate the much superior tortillas made from Mexico's heirloom corn in rural Oaxaca and in Pujol. Even the great tacos al pastor from El Vilsito, the best in the world according to many, use generic tortillas. Pujol's omakase was not only exceptionally delicious, but the different elements of it heirloom ingredients, artisanal and contemporary techniques, the brilliant performance of the server, the architectural and visual framework of the dining room in symphony with the dishes create an experience of enjoyment and beauty, and the potential of forms of intellectual and affective engagement that are possible only in such a setting, different from the equally beautiful and complex forms of popular art with which it is in dialogue.

Olvera's dishes do not feel like they are appropriating or annulling their traditional counterparts, but rather they create a distinct aesthetic regime that expands the possibilities of their nature. His tetela, in its calculated tension with the peanut mole and with the challenging flavor and textural dimensions of the octopus, forced me to reconsider the tetela in Itanoní, where it is designed to highlight the flavor profiles of the individual varieties of corn in concert with a minimalistic filling (a bean paste, maybe some Oaxaca cheese). As in Richter's Vivaldi, Olvera does not invent, but creates works of art based on the recomposition of ingredients that allow you to rearticulate your intellectual and personal relationship to the original. And in the dialogue, in the aesthetics of everyday Mexican elements displayed both in the popular and the elite, lies the archive that allows for the best of corn to survive.

If neoliberalism as an economic practice has been devastating to the material practices of food, the neoliberal art of gastronomy has, not without deep contradictions, emerged as the archive of survival of those objects and things in danger of extinction. Aesthetic regimes like Olvera's create economic and cultural conditions for the viability of products and their cultures and forms of life that in other instances have been wiped out by free trade. We should imagine a future of food justice and food sovereignty where these traditions are available to all. But for that future to be possible, the neoliberal art of gastronomy, in its complicated alliances with traditional producers, is one of the few fraught sites where the elements of that future can survive.

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado is Jarvis Thurston and Mona van Duyn Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. He writes on literature, cinema, and food. His most recent monograph is Strategic Occidentalism. On Mexican Literature, the Neoliberal Book Market and the Question of World Literature (Northwestern UP).


  1. For a discussion of the show's use of this piece, see Greg Morabito, "What is the 'Chef's Table' Intro Music?," Eater, September 18, 2018. []
  2. Whether Martínez's innovations, along with the Acurio-led boom of Peruvian cuisine, are positive or negative is a matter of fierce debate. On this matter, see Raúl Matta, "Recipes for Crossing Boundaries. Peruvian Fusion," in Cooking Technology. Transformations in Culinary Practice in Mexico and Latin America, edited by Steffan Igor and Ayora Díaz (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 139-54. Emma McDonnell has a good discussion on how the idea of the chef as arbiter erases the collective labor of people in Peru. See "Creating the Culinary Frontier. A Critical Examination of Chef's Narratives of Lost/Discovered Foods," in Anthropology of Food 14 (2019).[]
  3. For a history and recipe of mole madre, see Enrique Olvera, Mexico from the Inside Out (London: Phaidon, 2016), 153.[]
  4. "Pujol. Mexico City, Mexico," June 25, 2019.[]
  5. Priscilla Parkurst Ferguson, Accounting for Taste. The Triumph of French Cuisine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). []
  6. Katie Rawson and Elliott Shore trace this both to the Japanese and the French traditions. See Dining Out. A Global History of Restaurants (London: Reaktion, 2019), 87-110.[]
  7. On the correlation of science and art in cooking, see Guy Crosby, Cook, Taste, Learn. How the Evolution of Science Transformed the Art of Cooking (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 67-113.[]
  8. Rachel Laudan, Cuisine and Empire. Cooking in World History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 280-90.[]
  9. See, respectively, Victor M. Geraci, Making Slow Food Fast in California Cuisine (New York: Palgrave, 2017), 141-60; Colman Andrews, Ferran. The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food (New York: Penguin, 2010); and Jonathan Leer, "New Nordic Men. Cooking, Masculinity and Nordicness in René Redzepi's Noma and Claus Meyer's Almanak," Food, Culture and Society 22, no. 3, 2019.[]
  10. In my view, the two best studies of 20th century Mexican food are José Luis Juárez López, Nacionalismo culinario. La cocina mexicana en el siglo XX (Mexico: Conaculta, 2008); and Jeffrey Pilcher, ¡Qué Vivan los Tamales! Food and Mexican Modernity (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008).[]
  11. Néstor García Canclini, Hybrid Cultures. Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, translated by Christopher Chiappari and Silvia L. López (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).[]
  12. For a short story of the dish and an explanation of Sanborns with a recipe at the end of the story, see Todd Coleman, "Saucy Dish," Saveur, August 9, 2012. []
  13. Juárez López, Nacionalismo, 278-79.[]
  14. On this matter, see Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, "Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless and the Imagination of Authentic Mexican Food," Bulletin of Spanish Studies 97 (2020). An abridged podcast version is available.[]
  15. On Tlamanalli's complex tension between heritage and tourism, see Renata E. Hryciuk, "La alquimista de los sabores. Gastronomic Heritage, Gender and the Tourist Imaginary in Mexico," Revista del CESLA 24 (2019), 75-100. []
  16. On the Mexican ecosystem of tacos, see Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena, Tacopedia (London: Phaidon, 2015).[]
  17. "Chef Enrique Olvera's Guide to Mexico City," Food & Wine, April 25, 2017.[]
  18. There is an excellent book for readers interested in this theme: Rick López, Intellectuals, Artisans and the State after the Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010).[]
  19. Olvera, Mexico, One Plate at the Time, 89. Olvera has a video plating his barbacoa taco.[]
  20. Ibid., 83.[]
  21. Ibid., 83. See also Salvador Novo, Cocina mexicana. Historia gastronómica de la Ciudad de México, Mexico: Porrúa,1967. On Novo, see Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, "The Poetics of Mexican Gastronomy. Salvador Novo's Cocina mexicana," in Gastronarratives. Food, Literature and Culture in Latin America, edited by Vanesa Miseres and Rocío del Aguila (Little Rock: University of Arkansas Press, forthcoming).[]
  22. Enrique Olvera. "'No sabes quién soy,'" Reforma, August 9, 2020. 7.[]
  23. Enrique Olvera. "El campo del olvido," Reforma. July 13, 2020, 7.[]
  24. Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion. Eating Bodies in the 19th Century (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 2.[]
  25. On Revolutionary Mexican culture, see Culture and Revolution. Violence, Memory and the Making of Modern Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017). On hybridity, see García Canclini, Hybrid Cultures.[]
  26. Alyshia Gálvez, Eating NAFTA. Trade, Food Policies and the Destruction of Mexico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018); Gerardo Otero, The Neoliberal Diet. Healthy Profits, Unhealthy People (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018).[]
  27. Erica S. Simmons, Meaningful Resistance. Market Reforms and the Roots of Social Protest in Latin America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 131.[]
  28. Simmons, Meaningful Resistance, 127.[]
  29. Deborah Poole and Alonso Rascón, "Eating on a Dream. A Tortillería in Oaxaca," Nacla, June 5, 2009. A more detailed discussion of Itanoní may be found in Lauren Baker, Corn Meets Maize. Food Movements and Markets in Mexico (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), 99-131.  On Masienda and the economy of heirloom corn in general, see Victoria Burnett, "Oaxaca's Native Maize Embraced by Top Chefs in the U.S. and Europe," The New York Times, February 11, 2016.[]
  30. Ligaya Mishan, "The Disciples," T. The New York Times Style Magazine, April 13, 2020.[]
  31. Marian Bull, "Daniela Soto-Innes is one of the Most Exciting Chefs Working Today," T. The New York Times Style Magazine, August 10, 2020.[]