A Taste of Mexique with Chef Carlos Gaytan

Posted August 19, 2014 in
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Chef Carlos Gaytan poses as he plates some delicious food. Photo: Amanda Rock

Jorge Fierro had a vision of bringing upscale Mexican cuisine to Salt Lake City. Four years ago he opened Frida Bistro—a restaurant that welcomes you with vibrant colors against the dreary backdrop of industrial Salt Lake City. Named after artist Frida Kahlo, you can find her bold influence everywhere, from colorful paintings to passionate, soulful Mexican food.

Fierro started feeding Salt Lake in 1997, by selling refried pinto beans at the Downtown Farmer’s Market. His company, Rico Brand, offers a variety of tasty frozen Mexican dishes sold in local stores. I’m fond of the frozen vegan burritos and tamales. The tortillas, spanish rice and refried beans are also great. The Rico Brand is synonymous with good, local food. Fierro still has a strong presence at the market, with Rico Brand items like fresh salsa, guacamole and handmade tortillas, as well as the Frida Bistro food truck serving delectable Mexican fare.

Fierro is heavily involved in community issues. Working with the Consulate of Mexico in Salt Lake City, he brought Chef Carlos Gaytan to serve a special six-course dinner and more importantly, participate in a fundraiser for scholarships for Latino students.

You might recognize Carlos Gaytan from his stint on Top Chef. Trained in French cuisine, he used that skill to revitalize Mexican gastronomy. His restaurant in Chicago, Mexique, has recently earned a prestigious star from the Michelin Guide, the only Mexican restaurant to do so. It was a once in a lifetime treat to have Gaytan cook for us, since my husband has sworn to never leave the West.

The dinner started with Ceviche—thin slices of Cobia, a tasty white fish with firm texture, were plated with pickled peaches, blueberries and grapes and dressed with an aioli made with basil and serrano chilis. Delicious and refreshing, it was perfect dish for a hot Summer day.

The Seafood Tamal (singular for tamale) was impressive. One section of the plate contained the smallest and most adorable tamal wrapped in a green banana leaf. The words “seafood mousse” do not sound good to me, but one bite and I was convinced. The tamale had more of a “seafood filling,” I’m happy to report. A petite fennel salad added a refreshing touch. Chef Gaytan visited each table, pouring the savory and spicy Chile De Arbol Bouillabaisse into the other section of the plate. He instructed the diners to add the tamal to the bouillabaisse and experience the flavors together.

Pescado Zarandeado was served next. Red Snapper was delicate and flaky, served with zucchini and oranges atop a sweet potato puree. The plate was dressed with dots of spicy guacamole mousse.

My favorite dish of the night was the Pato al Tamarindo. Three rounds of pink duck breast were served with a swoop of tamarind sauce and fresh corn tamal presented in a corn husk. The duck was amazing—tender and flavorful. The sauce was slightly sweet and savory. Without warning I stabbed at my husband’s plate. He looked afraid at first but then granted me his last bite. He loves me.

The Puerco Corn Mole was so rich and decadent, it was like eating a meat dessert. Braised pork belly fell apart with each forkful, served with sweet potato puree and smothered in rich Mole Mexique. Pickled red onions played against the richness of the mole.

For dessert we were served a Pistachio Sponge Cake with a Tequila Creme Anglaise, Saffron Ice Cream and sliced strawberries. The cake was unbelievably light. Gaytan made this dish on Top Chef and it’s very clever. The batter is sprayed in a Styrofoam cup and microwaved for thirty seconds. Peeling the Styrofoam away from the cake, it was then plated with a sweet cream spiked with tequila.

There was a wine pairing available, but it was on the spendy side. Instead we opted to sample the fine margarita menu at Frida Bistro (and spent just as much money as if we had purchased the wine pairing!). Our favorite was made with mango and habanero. I don’t like sweet drinks, and margaritas usually fall in that category, but the heat and the fruit flavor balanced out perfectly.

Upscale Mexican food was a unique experience. My husband remarked that it’s some of the best food he’s eaten. We will certainly be back to explore Frida Bistro’s menu.