The Best Mole in Los Angeles Belongs to Chef Rocio Camacho
When Chef Rocio Camacho received the news from the jury that her mole creation was chosen as the best in this city, she could not believe it.
"It made me very, very happy and I only said to the other contestants, who were also Oaxacan — Restaurante Tlapazola Grill, Guelaguetza and Casita Mexicana — that Oaxaca had won," said the immigrant born in the Mixteca of Oaxaca.
Mole is a sauce used on or with many foods prepared by Oaxacans for important festivities and contains up to 80 spices and aromatic arrangements, colored with carbonized remnants of toasted seeds, burned bread and sweetened with bitter chocolate.
Rocio was encouraged to enter by renowned cooking critic Jonathan Gold, who has won a Pulitzer Prize for his writings for L.A. Weekly. Gold served on the jury of the "Best Mole in LA" competition on Sunday, June 14 at Media Park in Culver City, California. That's where, in a close decision, the judges declared Rocio's traditional Mole Negro de Oaxaca [Black Oaxacan Mole] the best in the city.
The judges told Rocio that her mole was like a novel — the flavor does not end and they wanted to continue eating.
"I am proud that all the work has been worth it," Rocio said. "I feel fulfilled with each recognition I receive, and that is why I am very pleased and especially proud to be from Oaxaca."
Rocio worked at the lowest levels of the restaurant business upon arriving as an immigrant to Los Angeles years ago. She has worked her way up, watching the birth of restaurants such as La Huasteca and La Casita Mexicana, whose moles have won renown. Now Moles La Tía Restaurant is doing the same in East Los Angeles — with Rocio on board as chef and partner.
Rocio said she entered the recent contest mentally prepared, adding that she gave the competition the same passion she puts into each one of her mole creations.
"When I cook I go into a bubble, that nothing should be missing from the food and that it should not have too much of anything, each spice is counted," she said. "I count chile-by- chile, I brown it and soak it. It is a ritual that lasts eight hours."
The passion is in Rocio's genes. She learned to prepare the black Oaxacan mole at the age of eight helping her mother in the family's restaurant in Huajuapan de León, Oaxaca. Mole has been a constant in her life ever since, and she has a list of 30 different recipes, with the most popular one a pre-Hispanic huitlacoche (corn mushroom) mole, which she calls "Mole of the Gods."
"I want to make the most of the pre-Hispanic foods — the nopal cactus, the prickly pear — and use them to prepare different moles, because I believe that with them I am continuing the tradition and I continue exploring the gastronomic culture," Rocio said.
The prize-winning chef has a touch of the poet, as well. She says that she identifies with the mole because it is a "traveling spirit," comparing the dish to her own life: a traveling immigrant. There's more traveling in store for Rocio, too. She's recently participated in Napa Valley Wine exhibit on Olvera Street at the El Pueblo Historical Monument in Downtown Los Angeles. And there could be a book tour in store, because Rocio is currently working on a cookbook about Oaxacan mole.
Moles la Tia Restaurant is located at 4619 East Cesar Chavez Ave. Los Angeles, Ca 90022 Tel. (323) 263-7842. Hours: 8:00 am. - 8:30 pm.
Mireya Olivera is editor of Impulso.
Photos by Impulso
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