For the majority of people living north of the Rio Grande, the perception of Mexican cuisine can be pretty narrow.
Of course, you've got your standard fare, the tacos, burritos and quesadillas that we're all familiar with, but with access to some of the best produce and a wave of young chefs pushing the envelope, Mexico is asserting itself as the next great food nation.
First introduced to America in the mid-20th century with the wave of immigrants who were beginning to set down roots in the southwestern border states, these traditional street foods began to slowly pop up across the country with the rise of Tex-Mex cuisine in the '70s.
Since then, little has changed, with your typical Mexican eateries serving the same, staid fare that's been around for years.
Thankfully, there are chefs like Pablo Salas working to change all that, and challenging diners' preconceived notions of what Mexican food can be.
The 34-year-old is one of Mexico's most celebrated young chefs, and was appointed as the country's delegate of the Conservatory of Mexican Gastronomic Culture, the agency responsible for the promotion and dissemination of Mexican cuisine through UNESCO. He was also brought in for several events at Whistler's premier food and wine festival, Cornucopia, as a guest chef at Mexican Corner's new Village location. As any of the diners who were lucky enough to sample some of Salas's sumptuous and refined plates can attest to, there's more to Mexican cuisine than we've been led to believe.
"Right now I think (the perception of) Mexican cuisine is changing a lot. People now see Mexico differently for its gastronomy," said Salas from his home in the south central city of Toluca. "We are not just molé, just corn, just tortillas, just tacos or just burritos. No, we are more than that, and people are now realizing that. We have a long culture of gastronomy, a lot of ingredients, a lot of techniques and a lot of new chefs that we are proud of."
Salas's style of food is firmly rooted in the concept of dichotomy; transforming street food to haute-cuisine and adding modern flourishes he learned at Mexico City's prestigious Ambrosia Culinary School to generations-old recipes.
The Salas family took over a Toluca restaurant in 2004 that had fallen into disrepair, rebranding it as Amaranta. It was there that the young chef was able to experiment and perfect his dishes — much like his mother did for so many years while he was growing up.
"My mother was the biggest influence on me because she wasn't a trained chef, but she really loved to cook every day," Salas said. "I saw her cook all the time, always trying new things. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't, and I think that's the way we cook (at Amaranta) too."