Like a rocket, Viva la Revolucion! is now out there, not exactly in outer space or the ether, though it is on a few websites, but certainly in the public eye. Last night, on a balmy summer’s evening, the launch party kicked off at the Mexican Ambassador’s residence, a consummately chic mansion on Belgrave Square. It was an exhilirating send-off, fuelled by trays and trays of delicious Mexican morsels and flowing margaritas. (Now I’m going to cheat a bit for this post & insert pics from Mexico itself – as you can imagine, I had no time to snap last night. This one is of a divine chilli and prawn ceviche)
It’s about 16 months since I first started researching the book, and in fact this time last year I was on the second research trip to Mexico with the photographer, Jean-Blaise Hall. As he’s Paris-based I didn’t expect to see him last night, but suddenly there he was, towering over the crowd (he’s a very tall man which means he gets the most incredible angles into his pics). His first look at the book was positive, so that’s a relief. (And here’s a lady in Mexico City’s labyrinthine Merced market – she and her husband prepare cactus-leaves – nopales – a highly nutritious vegetable used in salads)
It’s a wonderful feeling when a book as complex as this one comes to fruition and enters its own life. It’s been a long long road, from initial phone-calls to chefs in Mexico, to setting up the first research trip, followed 6 weeks later by the shoot trip, then getting the recipes out of the chefs, no mean task (thank you Ana Sims, the translator who laboured long and hard) then the actual writing of the interviews and regional food history, editing the translated recipes, answering copy-editing queries then working with the designer and finally with Manuel Diaz Cebrian, director of the Mexican Tourism Office, who encouraged the project from the start and hosted the launch with the Ambassador.
Phew, that’s a long trail – and a long and bad sentence – but it gives a vague idea of the intricacies of a book like this. (I love the pic below of a section of a typically idiosyncratic market-stand in Xico, a village in the hills of Veracruz that occupies an entire chapter of the book as I was so seduced by it).
And that’s without hair-raising stories of mistakes on maps leading to detours of 100s of km, dodgy roads with no signposts, missed flights, Mexico City traffic-jams caused by a joyful throng of completely naked demonstrators, torrential rain, the chef who didn’t turn up etc. And then of course stories of all the wonderful people encountered on the way, from start to finish in this spectacular and totally mesmerising country. (Here’s a restaurant helper in Oaxaca carrying armfuls of fresh totopos).
So last night was a real celebration and culmination of a lengthy gestation period. When I was writing travel guides a decade or so ago, after the second one of the series I knew exactly how much input and time was required. It was always 9 months from drawing up the flat-plan to delivering my manuscript – a real on-time baby. So that makes the food/travel book a rather overdue baby, in fact a member of some strange hybrid race, although those 16 months were not full-time of course. (And here we have a divine mango mousse laced with mezcal.)
I love food, and I love the people involved in it on a professional level. Last night there was a wonderful cross-section of journalists, friends, people involved in the book production at Mitchell Beazley and Mexicans involved in getting their food to a wider public in London. This included Marysol, the charming owner of the excellent restaurant, Mestizo , the chef Thomasina Miers, owner of the restaurant Wahaca, and Daniel Dultzin who’s distributing organic Mexican foods over here – www.yolkan.com. There was also a charming lady with a baby representing the Cool Chile Company, an online distributor of Mexican ingredients (And here is the ubiquitous tortilla, traditionally kept warm wrapped in a napkin in a basket.)
So far there’s been some very positive feedback, so the margaritas were not in vain. However as this was an Embassy, money couldn’t change hands. So a huge pile of books that at any other launch might have been sold, in this case were given away. That meant a lot of happy people were seen disappearing into the Belgravia night, a bright yellow book tucked under their arm. Viva la revolucion!