STORIES

Noma Mexico

For Seven weeks deep in the heart of the Yucatan came one of the most controversial dinner events the culinary world had ever seen. One of the world's best chefs decided to post up shop in the jungle with his team to not only showcase the Mexican ingredients but also to shed light on what the locals have been doing for thousands of years. Heralded chef Rene Redzepi brought his entire team from Copenhagen to Tulum Mexico to first learn what the beautiful country of Mexico had to offer in terms of ingredients, customs and culture.

I was fortunate enough to go to Tulum with two of my closest chef friends to experience the very last service Noma had to offer. My goal was to capture not just the dinner but the behind the scenes of what the team of 70 plus put into making these dinner events "the meal of the decade".

Below are my images in what I hope to showcase the experience.

 

"Del Sur"

Whenever I cross the US border into Mexico, my first inclination is to eat some street food. The vendors dishing out the food have been doing so for decades. There are smells of cilantro, onions, and grilled meat. And sounds of the vendors calling out orders, people conversing, and the automobiles hurrying by. I always get a sense of time stopping, like nothing has changed. Tijuana and the state of Baja is a place I have come to love.


I started documenting my travels to Baja with my Leica Q in hopes to capture the look and feel similar to the work of Alex Webb. For me, his images over the years have really captured the beauty of Mexico. My hope for this ongoing project is to document the people making the street food. I chose the Q because of its versatility and image quality. With the help of some local friends, Vanessa Cecena and chef Ruffo Ibarra, I have put together a solid beginning to my work.


Typically, my first stop when I go down south is Hidalgo Mercado, located in the central of Tijuana. This bustling market is a favorite stop for locals; you can find amazing produce, from various types of chiles and mole to cactus, beans and insects. No matter the time of day, it’s always busy with locals coming to gather ingredients for the day’s meal. The list and availability of unique ingredients makes this market one of my favorites in all the southland, which includes Southern California. Here local, farm to table takes on a whole different meaning.

Located across the street from the mercado is an amazing food stand called Tacos Fito. On any given day you will find a long queue for their tacos because they deal out some of the best food in all of Tijuana. The jus they use to “wet” their tacos is steeped with amazing local flavors. But my favorite food stand to visit is Tortas del Wash Mobile. Alejandro’s family has been slinging their sought after tortas for over 50 years! They started out in Guadalajara and now have five locations in Tijuana. The carne, or meat, they use for their tortas is marinated in a family secret recipe and then grilled over mesquite wood and they typically sell out by two p.m. every day!


Las Ahumaderas taco stand is only a few minutes from Tortas del Wash Mobile and was highly recommended by Alejandro. He thinks they serve the best tacos in Tijuana — apparently so, because recently Anthony Bourdain straddled up to the stand and ate eight of their tacos. Owner Cristobal and his family are originally from Puebla and have been serving to the locals since 1960. The Al Pastor tacos are definitely some of the best in the city; just lightly seasoned, it’s the meat that is the star here.

What do all these street food vendors have in common? They are extremely kind and humble. What they serve is from the heart. While this country may be considered poor, the people are rich in pride and generosity. They are always willing to give and lucky for me, I am always willing to receive.

New York State of Mind

I am feeling apprehensive, I am at 30,000 feet, flying in a metal tube. As I sit in my seat I look out the window and think “I am on my way to NYC to do a piece for some of the best in the cocktail and photography industry-what’s to be nervous about?!” I flag down the flight attendant and order another (albeit cheap) bourbon. This is somewhat ironic since I will soon be drinking the best there is once I get to my final destination.

grand army

I have been to Manhattan many times for culinary trips but never to Brooklyn. My journey takes me to an affluent neighborhood of Brooklyn called Boerum Hill. As I walk down State Street I am enamored by the beautiful brownstones. Then I see my final stop, Grand Army Bar, situated on the corner of State and Hoyt. When I walk through the doors and pass the Chilean Curtain the first thing I notice is the light. As a photographer I am always chasing light but to come here not knowing what to expect, I am ecstatic about the soft light and giddy with anticipation.

I am met by a giant in the industry, metaphorically and figuratively. At 6’4’, Damon Boelte stands behind the bar ready to sling up some of the best cocktails in the city. He is the head bar man and partner at Grand Army Bar. Originally from Oklahoma, this gentle giant is extremely versed in all things cocktail. He has a radio show and podcast covering the industry on Heritage radio network where he does not get paid. “I do it because I believe in this craft”. At present count he is closing in on his 200th episode. This milestone is a clear indication of the man’s passion and dedication to his craft.

grand army bar

As I sit down at the long, inviting bar the first thing I recognize is the eclectic collection of bitters in front of me. “I’ve been known to employ fernet into a lot of cocktails and even hold the record for the most fernet in a cocktail (3oz)”. Damon grabs a bitter and starts mixing up a “Zombie” then offers me one. I think better of it since it’s only 11am and the long ingredient list scares me. Instead, I order a Negroni. I notice he is using Brooklyn gin which makes me ask him, “Why Brooklyn, why choose here when there are so many great neighborhoods in New York?”. He smirks and says “Name one place better than Brooklyn, I dare you”. I don’t disagree, especially when the man is making my cocktails.

grand army

One aspect that makes Grand Army Bar so unique is the team behind it. It is the brainchild of head Bartender Damon Boelte, Julian Brizzi ( Rucola), Noah Bernamoff (Mile End) and food photographer extraordinaire Daniel Krieger. The premise behind Grand Army is to provide a neighborhood cocktail bar with upscale food but with a casual atmosphere. With a largely seafood concentric menu, the food is meant to complement the high end cocktail program. Chef Joe Bignelli is composing mostly light fare, ranging from oysters to shrimp cocktails to my favorite – the smoked octopus.

Being a classically trained chef, I appreciate the simplicity of the menu but one which has a specific approach. I ask Damon about the menu and he states “I like to snack my way through the night and that’s kind of what we do here”.

Later that night I am accompanied by Daniel and my friend and accomplished NYC food photographer, Eric Medsker. After several Negroni’s and great conversation I am left with the empty feeling of having to go back to Southern California. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love SoCal. Although I grew up on the east coast, I specifically moved to the west coast to live. But, after such a great trip, I just can’t help the way I feel – maybe I’m just in a New York state of mind.