One Dish, One Story: Mole With Oscar
“When you cook Latin American dishes in Miami, you are basically up against all Latin American grandmothers and that’s very tough,” says Oscar del Rivero, laughing, while we stand together in the kitchen of Talavera Cocina Mexicana.
“People from Latin America often compare my dishes to how their abuelas used to prepare them – or even more complicated: how they remember that those dishes tasted,” he says.
Del Rivero is a graduate of a prestigious international school for chefs and has worked in Europe, so he knows all about fancy cooking. But the partner and executive chef of Talavera and Jaguar Ceviche & Latam Grill still prefers to cook and reinterpret those traditional Latin American dishes that he grew up eating. “I like to give them a special twist or spin and that makes them really special.”
Oscar admits: "It’s almost impossible for me to win against memories of abuelas and their food." He goes on to tell me that some of his customers get really upset and complain to the waiters that in the past, back at home, their grandmothers prepared the dish very differently. Oscar doesn’t take offense though. As he stresses, this is a battle he consciously chose: “Food and cooking for me is all about recreating memories, about bringing back a little bit of the past - bite by bite so to speak.”
With his food Oscar wants to bring back the flavors of the past not only for his guests but for himself. For example cooking mole, the traditional Mexican sauce, is for him a way to be connected to his grandmother Raquel, who passed away years ago. “It would take hours and hours while she was preparing the many ingredients needed for a good mole.”
He shows me a tray full of ingredients one needs for mole sauce. There are walnuts, spices, onions, tomatoes, limes, almonds, cinnamon, plums – and even chocolate. “It’s original from Mexico”, he tells me pointing at the chocolate.
When preparing mole sauce, the options are almost endless, he says. “I try to refine it every time, to achieve the ideal taste and texture – and to have different layers of taste,” he says.
Oscar wishes he had gotten to know his grandmother better and had more real conversations with her before he left his hometown Mexico City to come to the U.S. to live with his father. He was 20 years old then. “I loved Miami right away. I lived in South Beach – the best place to party when you are young”, he says and grins.
Oscar is not afraid of taking the Abuela challenge every time he enters the kitchen. "Miami is a great place for food, because so much is happening in the restaurant scene right now," he says.