By Virginia Monaco
Yesterday evening, students and alumni welcomed back ICE Alumni Hall of Fame inductee Chef Ivy Stark for a demonstration of Oaxaxan Chichilo mole and Agua Fresca. Stark attended ICE when it was Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School and got her start at the renowned Border Grill. She is currently the executive chef of Dos Caminos and is thrilled to cook her beloved regional Mexican cuisine every day.
Chef Stark has spent significant time in Mexico, touring the distinct regions and gathering recipes along the way. She shared with students many of her insider tricks, the kind that you can only learn by spending time with Mexican locals who have been passing these recipes down for generations. One was reserving the seeds from dried chilies to be toasted on top of a burning tortilla, adding a smokiness and spice to the finished mole. Another was the particular type of chilies that were vital to the mole recipe: chilhuacle negro chilies, which only grow outside of a particular small town. She praised Mexican cooks as extremely resourceful – using leftover bones for stocks and lard for fat, as well as their choice to make a beautiful sauce based on chilies, vegetables and spices the star of the plate, instead of more expensive cuts of meat. Restaurant chefs and home cooks alike can learn valuable lessons in conservation and sustainable cooking from the efficiency of this regional style. It may have been born of poverty, but it has continued, due to a proud tradition and growing global appreciation of Oaxacan delicacies.
In Mexico, moles are a celebratory food made for birthdays, weddings and christenings. They are labor-intensive and require the perfect balance of dozens of ingredients. It is thus a very proud cook who can produce a smooth, shiny, well-balanced sauce. Moles contain many essential culinary lessons for burgeoning chefs. Each ingredient must be carefully toasted or charred to gradually build flavor. It also provides the opportunity to build and train one’s palette by using and balancing many exotic ingredients. Making mole is usually a two day process, and shortcuts produce an inferior result. Due to this unique mix of complexity and patience, a cook can feel a great sense of pride when a carefully cooked and balanced mole is complete. Ivy herself beamed at the smooth, glossy texture of her finished Oaxacan Chichilo mole, and her time, hard work and pride were certainly savored by all the lucky attendees as they cleaned their plates of the last bit of sauce.