Taste of the Aztec World

January 15, 2009 8:17:08 AM PST
The Field Museum is in the midst of a major exhibition on Aztec culture.And all this week, they're partnering with a dozen local restaurants. It's called a "Taste of the Aztec World," and several local restaurants are getting into the spirit by offering special menus through Sunday.

The Aztec exhibit at the Field covers everything from worship, to culture, and of course, food preparation. But all this week, local restaurateurs are attempting to recreate meals inspired by the Aztecs. Some have bugs on their menu. Others just feature the staples of corn, squash and beans. We visited a West Town Latin restaurant where all of the above are on the plate.

The Aztec World exhibit, currently at the Field Museum, features rare discoveries and highlights some little-known aspects of an ancient civilization.

"One of the goals of the show is to show just how much more was to the Aztecs. They were a sophisticated society, besides human sacrifice they also wrote incredible poetry, music and just had a really diverse society," said Hilary Hansen, the Project Director at the Field Museum.

It included food production with primitive technology.

"They ended up dredging up the soil and piling it on top of itself and creating artificial islands where they grew all these different crops," Hansen said. "We also have a lot of serving and cooking dishes and vessels that people can see how people prepared their food back then."

In that spirit, all this week more than a dozen local restaurants are participating in a "Taste of the Aztec World." To chefs like Carlos Gaytan, who owns Mexique in West Town, Aztec cuisine is defined through a small prism.

"Squash, beans, chiles, grasshoppers, rabbit, deer?basically what I'm looking here to have a great balance in every single dish, where, you know, gonna be eating very comfortable food, but it's gonna be hints of different ingredients probably you've never tasted before.," said Gaytan, also the owner of Mexique.

Gaytan is offering a four-course Aztec-inspired menu, starting off with a corn and hominy soup, topped with bits of braised rabbit. His tortilla is slathered with black beans and grilled onions; he then sprinkles on some fried grasshoppers, called chapulin. Finally, bits of roasted squash are scattered across the top and chili oil is ringed around the plate as a garnish.

His main dish features duck leg and breast set onto a rich corn pudding and sauteed Swiss chard. A sweet-tart tamarind glaze gives the dish earthy balance.

Dessert is simple: chocolate. But the Aztecs would have had theirs with chiles instead of sugar. Gaytan compromises, adding heavy cream and some chile powder, then serving a molten chocolate crepe alongside.

"I use chile anchos, so it's not spicy but it gets incorporated flavors and gives earthiness to it," Gaytan said.

The Taste of the Aztec World continues through this weekend. And the exhibit at the Field lasts until April 19.

1529 W. Chicago Ave.

from Zocalo:
Pavo en Salsa Borracha
Herb marinated roasted turkey leg simmered in a pasilla chile-mezcal salsa; served with a squash medley and an autumn spiced sweet potato

from Kit Kat Lounge:
Chocolate raspberry truffle martini: Vodka, chocolate liqueur, raspberry liqueur, cream.

Aztec World at the Field Museum
The Aztec World exhibition is at The Field Museum exclusively through April 19, 2009.
For more information, visit www.fieldmuseum.org/aztecs
More information on Taste of the Aztec World can be found at www.fieldmuseum.org/aztectaste

Other restaurants participating in Taste of the Aztec World through Jan. 17th:
Adobo Grill
Café Ba Ba Reeba
Fonda del Mar Restaurant
La Finca
Mundial Cocina Mestiza
Nacional 27
Rique's Regional Mexican Food