When I am not an artist
Ricardo Alcaide discusses creative cooking and reveals one of his favourite recipes: Mexican Mole Poblano
Venezuelan born artist Ricardo Alcaide, whose minimal aesthetic is influenced by modernist architecture, has been living in Sāo Paulo for over sixteen years. When Stefan and I had the privilege of visiting him and his partner Gerd in his beautiful apartment and studio a few years ago, we were completely dazzled by his cooking skills, which he so casually presented during breakfast.
As we sat at Ricardo’s table, enjoying a dish of arepas, avocado, white cheese, limes, and chili, which I remember well, as well as an exciting dish made with black beans that had been cooked for hours, I couldn’t believe how simple ingredients could be turned into such flavorful dishes. For our new series, ‘When I am not an artist‘, I sat down with Ricardo via zoom to talk about food and his seemingly simple approach to cooking.
Instead of ordering an immense amount of take-outs like many people did during lockdown, Ricardo would surprise Gerd with a new dish every evening „like they would serve in a super fancy restaurant”. Where does his inspiration come from? “I always imagine combinations and meals in my head. It’s funny because the creativity doesn’t stop in my work, the creativity is all around me, it’s all my life. And cooking is part of it”, says Ricardo.
Like a piece of art, once a dish is out there in the world, it can’t be remade. There are no measurements to follow, so every time Ricardo does remake something, it tastes different. It all starts with, “having a sense of what goes with what. I ask myself what do I feel like today – then I start thinking about ingredients, and come up with something.”
I was curious to find out where his passion for food and cooking comes from, and am told Ricardo’s mother plays a huge role: “My mum is Spanish, and the Spanish have an incredible sense for food. She moved to Venezuela in 1959, and would go to a social club visited by people from around the world. These clubs weren’t fancy back then, like they are now. The building was designed by a super modernist architect, it was a great place. She was always meeting new people there, from Puerto Rico, to Japan, Peru and Argentina. She always asked people about recipes, and how they did this and that. So, we grew up eating a lot of food from all over the world. I am basically doing very much the same thing today.”
Putting a lot of time and effort into his culinary creations is needed when inventing new recipes. “I don’t mind working a lot, and doing very complicated things that take me hours. I have this crazy idea about how it should be, and then I work on it until it works out”, says Ricardo. One of his most favorite and complex recipes he ever did is the ‘Mole Poblano’, a very popular dish in Mexico, which comes in many variations. It is a rich, exotic sauce containing a variety of Mexican chilies, nuts, plantains, aniseed and dark chocolate, among many other ingredients, which he first prepared with his partner Gerd a few years ago after some research. During his artist residency in Puerto Escondido at the Casa Wabi Foundation in Mexico in 2019, Ricardo exchanged ideas with the talented Mexican kitchen crew, one of which was to cook Mole from scratch. They were very excited to cook together and learn his recipe as they had never tried to make Mole themselves. It should be explained that Mole is available everywhere as a ready-made product, so you don’t have to prepare it entirely from scratch, which is very complicated and takes a lot of time. “Making the Mole at Casa Wabi was so much fun and a huge success, even among Mexican Mole connoisseurs!”
Test your cooking skills at home, with Ricardo’s famous Mole Poblano recipe:
Mole Poblano by Ricardo Alcaide and Gerd Van Den Daele
1⁄2 kilo of lard
180g mulato chilies
180g pasilla chilies
180g ancho chilies
60g chipotle chilies
200g of peanuts
200g of walnuts
100g sesame seeds
1 handful of coriander, stems
1 tbsp whole black pepper
75g cinnamon sticks
2 large tortillas
4 tbsp brown sugar
8 cloves garlic
3 peeled tomatoes
2 large onions
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablets of 70-85% cocoa chocolate
1 whole chicken to make a broth
(to make stock add: cilantro, onion, pepper, carrot, garlic, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and 2 organic vegetable or chicken stock cubes)
Soak in lukewarm water for half hour. Remove all chilies seeds and keep some aside for toasting. Toast slightly over the griddle until dry out, taking care not to burn them. Then, place the toasted chilies in a separate saucepan with 4 cups of water.
ROAST the tomatoes and garlic cloves slowly over a dry non-stick pan, medium heat for long time until slightly burned or golden, and set aside.
FRY the ingredients in the lard, in the following order:
Finally, add the onions. When the onions are golden brown, fry a little more, together with 1⁄2 cup of aniseed and the handful of coriander for about 3 min.
TOAST sesame seeds, whole cinnamon, anise, and cloves – being careful not to burn
Add one or two tablespoons of chilies seeds (to make it more or less spicy), and whole black pepper corns.
Grind everything well in a electrical blender and set aside. Boil the chicken for about 40 min. for the stock. Set aside
LIQUIDISE the chilies in their water, and with the help of the stock if necessary, gradually mix all the remaining ingredients together – just enough to liquefy the cream. Put all the ingredients in a large pot with lard at the bottom. Add the sugar and salt. Sometimes will need extra water to blender easily, adding the minimum as possible.
Boil the blended mixture for an hour or two, even longer if needed, stirring constantly so that the bottom does not burn, until it thickens (loses moisture) and changes colour to a toasted brown. Add the chocolate. Adjust salt and sugar. It should be balanced between sweet and salty.
Add the chicken pieces, previously cooked, or cooked separately in a fry pan with little virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, preferably boneless, add the mole and adjust with the broth until slightly runny sauce. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with white rice and use roasted sesame seeds for garnish.
Mole sauce can also be served with fried eggs and Mexican tortillas for breakfast or brunch.
VEGAN version can be made, replacing the lard for virgin olive oil, and making the broth with only vegetable stock and using grilled Tofu instead of chicken.