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Oyamel's Chef Omar Talks Heirloom Corn

April 2017

On a windy night in Washington, DC, a sold-out audience packed into the Ripley Center Discovery Theater at the Smithsonian Institution to learn about corn. But not just any corn. Heirloom corn with names like olotillo, bolita, and chalqueño, and in colors ranging from deep purple to pumpkin orange to pomegranate red. These ancient varieties of corn are being rediscovered by chefs around the country, including Oyamel’s Head Chef Omar Rodriguez, due in large part to Jorge Gaviria, the founder of Oaxaca-based Masienda.

Jorge founded Masienda after working at Dan Barber’s restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, an experiment in extreme farm-to-table eating in upstate New York. Referring to his project as “milpa-to-mesa” – or corn farm-to-table – Jorge discussed his obsession with corn, and inspiration to work with small-scale Mexican farmers to bring back heirloom varietals that appeal to adventurous chefs and discerning diners.

Chef Omar has experimented with a number of the heirloom corn varieties grown by Masienda. “It’s not just this monochromatic flavor,” Chef Omar said. “You can taste subtleties” in the different types. The process to make masa, or corn dough, takes a full 16-20 hours – the corn must be simmered and steeped overnight, then ground in the morning with a special Mexican molino, or mill, that uses two volcanic stones. The tortillas that Chef Omar’s team makes at Oyamel from the masa are “the perfect vessel that’s not going to fall apart – it’s light and airy with a fluffiness that a tortilla de maïz should have.”

To have a taste of Masienda’s heirloom corn, and the light, airy tortillas that result, come visit Oyamel – make reservations here.