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Cosmé

I don’t write restaurant reviews, for several reasons.

  1. I am not Pete Wells, Jonathan Gold, or Ruth Reichl, although I wish I could be.
  2. I don’t possess the skills or the patience required for such a task.
  3. My budget for eating out does not include eating at the same restaurant for as many times as necessary until I can determine how I truly feel about the meal.
  4. Disguises, while fun, would probably be exhausting after a while. It is, however, fun to imagine a photo of myself hanging up in a restaurant kitchen. You know, just to keep the staff terrified.

No, I don’t write reviews. But I will always, always tell you where I’ve had an exceptional meal and think you would, too. It would be a shame to keep that information to myself.

When I first moved to New York City at the end of October, I was focused on settling into my new home and adjusting to culinary school. Eating out and trying new things weren’t a priority for me, so when 2017 rolled around, I decided it was time for me to explore the city more and finally satiate my culinary curiosities.broccoli tamal, goat ricotta, arugula at cosme nyc

seared brussel sprouts, mole verde, pine nut, kale at cosme nyc

The meal that stands out the most in my recent memory was dinner at Cosmé, Enrique Olvera’s restaurant in the Flatiron district. A little background info: Cosmé earned three stars from Pete Wells in the New York Times, was number one in his roundup of Top New York Restaurants of 2015, and made it onto the World’s 50 Best Restaurants at #16. Perhaps most impressive is Daniela Soto-Innes, the Chef de Cuisine at Cosmé, who won the Rising Star Chef Award from the James Beard Foundation last year when she was only 25. Her mantra? “Go faster; never have a dirty towel or apron on you; and never say no.”

My friends and I managed to snag a reservation for Superbowl Sunday, and we gorged ourselves on food that was clean, contemporary, and different. The food is “ostensibly simple but profoundly complex,” and certainly distinguishes itself from what people typically think Mexican food is. Olvera’s food reminds me that there is more to Mexican cuisine than guacamole and burritos, and it is difficult- if not impossible- to know what ‘Mexican food’ is when, as Olvera says, “Mexico is so large and there are so many regions that not even Mexicans know it well.”

ayacote bean salad, market greens, charred cucumber vinaigrette at cosme nyc


My favourite dish on the menu: mole verde with seared brussel sprouts, pine nuts, and kale.

Enrique Olvera, on his food: “I say it’s a personal interpretation of Mexican food: some dishes are very traditional, some are more contemporary. The mole might be like a traditional recipe, but we try to do things that are authentic- things that we do ourselves, that nobody else does. It’s not how grandma used to do it. It’s not a deconstruction of what grandma did. It’s not molecular. It’s something that is very organic, very authentic. We try to be honest because we think that flavour is the most important thing in a dish… We like things that are interesting and fun to your palate. I think a restaurant should always be evolving. [It] should never be static.”

Food writer Tamar Adler on Cosme and Enrique Olvera: “What distinguishes Cosme from all- and from Rosa Mexicano and Dos Caminos in New York, or Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, which lean toward fusion cuisine served by waiters obliged to make guacamole tableside- is Enrique’s culinary credibility. Enrique isn’t ‘inspired by’ Mexican food. It is his soil and his roots.”

tlayuda, black beans, chorizo, avocado, stracciatella, salsa borracha at cosme nyc

 

What I’m Reading: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Last year, I made a goal to finish fifty books by the end of 2016. I love to read, but it is usually one of the first things that goes onto the back burner when life gets busy, and there’s nothing like a good challenge to push me through. At the beginning of this year, I made the same goal: fifty books by the end of 2017.

So, here’s my first book of 2017: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Oh, Roxane Gay. I have an unending, burning love for her.

A few years ago, when I was visiting St. Louis, my mother-in-law invited me to a reading and book signing with her friends. I’d never heard of the author, but the premise of the book sounded interesting: an essay collection examining the idea that feminism isn’t always perfect, but it doesn’t have to be in order to effect change. The author turned out to be Roxane Gay, who was on her book tour promoting Bad Feminist. Within minutes of hearing her speak, I was a fan. When I heard she was publishing another book—this time a collection of fictional short stories—I started counting down the days until its release on January 3, 2017. Difficult Women came out just in time for it to become my first book of 2017.

The stories in Difficult Women are dark. They’re about the hardships many women face each day, be it loneliness, grief, longing, and, in more than one story, violence. As noted by The L.A. Times, “It is a book about the violence done to women and the violence of being a woman.” Her writing is sharp and the characters are complex. The stories touched me deeply; it felt like I knew each of the characters Gay introduced to her readers, and it made reading the book an intimate experience. The stories are quirky and reminded me ever so slightly of The First Bad Man by Miranda July.

My favourite line from Difficult Women: “She was smart enough to want more but tired enough to accept the way things were.”

On women being “difficult”: “I think women are sometimes termed ‘difficult’ when we want too much, when we ask for too much, when we think too highly of ourselves, or have any kind of standards… I wanted to play with this idea that women are difficult, when in reality it’s generally the people around them who are the difficult ones.”

On diversity, whiteness, and representation: “Diversity in literature is, in part, about representation– who is telling the stories and who stories are told about. People of colour are not under any kidn of obligation beyond working hard, doing their best, and learning from their mistakes. It is deeply unfair to task writers of colour with unique responsibilities that we don’t assign to all writers. As for the race of my characters, why do you think their race isn’t easily discernible? Probably because you assume, like most people, that whiteness is the default. Let me be clear- whiteness is not the default in my fiction.”

On being labeled as a difficult woman: “If having a personality and having opinions makes me difficult, then yes, I am very difficult.”

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Knife Skills, Or My Lack Thereof

knifecuts

I want to make the most of my time in New York City, but being a full-time student with a heavy workload makes that pretty much impossible, especially when the subway rarely functions properly and it seems like everyone is running on their own clock. I’m struggling to even set aside time for myself to sit, breathe, and read at the end of each day, which—besides getting my day started slowly and making my morning coffee—is perhaps my favourite part of the day.

It’s been a month since I started culinary school, and every single day has been exhausting and intensive. There seems to be a never-ending list of French culinary terminology and techniques, all of which I am excitedly learning and working to master. The pace of the class is fast and some days, all of it is a blur. I was so tired the other afternoon I nearly took a tumble into the compost bin, which gave my instructor and the rest of my class something to chuckle at. My peers are, for the most part, fun to be around. I never thought I would seriously use that line from Forrest Gump about life being like a box of chocolates and never knowing what you’ll find, but that’s kind of how getting to know everyone in my class feels like. When you’re stuck in the same room with the same people for eight hours every single day, over and over again, those people start to feel like family.

So far, we’ve made a lot of stocks and sauces, potatoes, and vegetable dishes. Some of them have been quite meat-heavy. I don’t eat meat or dairy and attending culinary school with these limitations is challenging, but not impossible. The biggest hurdle I’ve come across is not meat’s ubiquitous presence, but perfecting the many basic cuts of vegetables referred to as taillage in French. No matter how many carrots and bags of potatoes I go through, I just can’t seem to cut the perfectly straight ½ cm by ½ cm squares required for macedoine, or the cocotte, which truly is a culinary student’s nightmare. I’m not one to give up, but the frustration is real. At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that while making the perfect cut is important, it’s not the only thing that matters. I’m going to culinary school to learn and become a better cook.

cocottes

Tomorrow, I hop on a long flight to Hong Kong to spend time with my family.

Stay posted, because there will definitely be food, people, and places worth writing about…