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Mexico City’s Elena Reygadas, ‘best female chef’ in the world, has plans for so much

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Elena Reygadas did not want to eat at the omakase restaurant run by a world renowned chef from Japan. The Mexico City chef, named the World’s Best female chef in 2023, passed on the French tasting menus and the numerous dining rooms that boast connections to celebrity chefs from around the world.

During her recent five-day trip to Las Vegas for this year’s event, the place she coveted most, was a small tea shop in a strip mall that shares real estate with a store selling “exotic shoes” and another called Sweet Seduction Bikinis.

I recently met up with Reygadas before she took part in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony and festivities at Wynn Resort Las Vegas. Her five restaurants in Mexico City are integral to the destination being one of the most unique, alluring and utterly delicious food cities in the world. This year, Rosetta jumped from No. 49 to 34 on the list.

And despite a persistent debate about whether a separate “best female chef” category is needed at all, Reygadas said she sees the title as an acknowledgment that women “are the ones that have preserved the food culture for generations and generations.”

The afternoon before the ceremony, we drove off the Strip for a short crawl that started at Grand Yunnan Tea, a shop that sources dozens of teas from a single factory in China’s Yunnan province. Her many fans might not know it, but Reygadas is a lover of tea. While the teas are normally just available for retail, owners Selina and Stacy Yano agreed to let us sample a few of their favorites during our visit.

Selina Yano of Grand Yunnan Tea prepares a pu'erh tea, an aged tea from 2015, at Grand Yunnan Tea.

Selina Yano of Grand Yunnan Tea prepares a pu’erh tea, an aged tea from 2015, at Grand Yunnan Tea.

3: 15 p.m. Grand Yunnan Tea

We sat in front of Selina as she poured hot water over a small heap of dark, curled leaves. She scooped them from a wooden parcel filled with Bainian gu shu shu cha, a variety of pu’ƒer tea plucked from centuries old trees. This particular stash had been aging since 2015.

“I am very fond of tea and whenever I see there is a place to try, I go,” Reygadas said. “This place caught my attention because they specialize in Chinese teas.”

Reygadas remembers her mother treating her sore throats with bugambilia and her stomach aches with toronjil as a child. The first tea that gripped her was lapsang souchong. During a trip to Japan, she discovered the wonders of hojicha. When she leaves her restaurants to return home in the afternoon to see her daughters, the first thing she does is make tea.

“I think I associate teas with love and also I just love the act of having tea and how it feels,” she said.

We sipped the pu’er tea from cups the size of shot glasses. It was deep brown in color with an aroma that brought to mind toasted nuts, damp dirt and cocoa.

Selina Yano of Grand Yunnan Tea prepares a raw pu'erh tea at Grand Yunnan Tea.

Selina Yano of Grand Yunnan Tea prepares a raw pu’erh tea at Grand Yunnan Tea.

Elena Reygadas takes in the scent of pu'er tea, an aged tea, at Grand Yunnan Tea.

Elena Reygadas takes in the scent of pu’er tea, an aged tea from 2015, at Grand Yunnan Tea with L.A. Times columnist Jenn Harris.

“For me, pu’er is like earth,” Reygadas said, her nose in her cup. “Beets remind me of this flavor. If I paired this with food, it would be charcoal beets. It has this earthy note, but it’s also a little sweet and could balance very well.”

The night before, Reygadas cooked a seven-course dinner with chef Sarah Thompson at Casa Playa restaurant at Encore. She paired a wobbly round of blue shrimp gelee with Dungeness crab and avocado with a wine glass full of cold, cloudy 100% Asatsuyu cultivar sencha tea from New York City’s Kettl.

“Unfortunately, not many people in Mexico associate drinking tea with food,” she said. “But I really want to try more teas with food because sometimes tea can be even more complex than wine. In terms of terroir and culture, there is a lot to consider with tea and food.”

Reygadas perused the shop as if it were a museum. She asked the provenance of the clay tea pots in one case and inquired about the paper-wrapped tea cakes on the shelves.

Chef Elena Reygadas looks at packages of pu'er tea at Grand Yunnan Tea in Las Vegas.

Chef Elena Reygadas takes in the packages of pu’er tea cakes at Grand Yunnan Tea in Las Vegas.

A unique tea cake studded with Chinese flowers at Grand Yunnan Tea.

A unique tea cake studded with Chinese flowers at Grand Yunnan Tea.

Selina used the same heap of leaves to pour four more servings of tea, each one slightly different in flavor but just as potent as the first.

“You can make tea with these same leaves 22 to 28 times because of the quality,” she said.

We listened as Selina explained how to assign a specific pot to a specific tea. The clay is porous, and eventually, plain water in the pot will pick up notes from the leaves.

Reygadas finished her fifth cup, then bought one of the tea cakes to bring back to Mexico City.

“It settles my stomach,” she said, then sniffed her new treasure. “But it also settles my mind.”

Elena Reygadas at Fuku Burger with desserts from pop-up bakery Milkfish Bakeshop.

Reygadas at Fuku Burger with desserts from the pop-up bakery MilkFish Bakeshop.

The pandan tres leches cake from Milkfish Bakeshop.

MilkFish’s pandan tres leches, a pandan sponge cake soaked in coconut milk with pandan whipped cream and blueberries.

4:38 p.m. Fuku Burger

Despite the in-between hour, the dining room at Fuku Burger was buzzing. Unlike many of the diners who feasted on burgers, we were there for pastries. It’s one of the pick-up locations for MilkFish bakeshop, a pop-up Filipino bakery…



Read More: Mexico City’s Elena Reygadas, ‘best female chef’ in the world, has plans for so much

2024-06-20 17:59:49

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