WILLIAMSBURG – Bowl of ‘Zole – a new festival celebrating one of Mexico’s most beloved dishes, pozole, with eleven distinct variations on the hominy-based soup by eleven different chefs, will take place in Williamsburg this Saturday, February 29.
Chef Danny Mena and Arik Torren, both veterans of the New York City mezcal and restaurant scenes, wanted to create an event that elevated mezcal and pozole, both of which tangibly represent the regional diversity of Mexico’s cuisine. They called up Jimmy Carbone, a seasoned event producer, to help bring it to fruition.
Pozole, Mexico’s answer to the light dinner or savory breakfast, has never been a destination food in New York City in the vein of tacos or mole. Primarily a Central Mexican dish, pozole most commonly consists of pork, but can also be made with a base of chicken or seafood. Dried and fresh chilies are a defining component of the red and green versions, whereas white pozole eschews them entirely for a milder profile.
Since Mexican cuisine is hyper-regional, the composition of the dish varies wildly from state to state, but one non-negotiable is hominy. Hominy, a direct translation of the word pozole, is corn treated with an alkaline solution so that it becomes bloated and soft, and gives the dish its starchy, substantial character, not entirely unlike the pillowy matzo balls in a bowl of chicken soup.
“It’s kind of hard not to love pozole as a Mexican,” Mena explained.
The Mexico City native and co-owner of La Loncheria in Bushwick says his family would collect it in jugs or pots from their local pozoleria in Mexico City and heat it up on the stove at home. Though he spent most of his life stubbornly devoted to the more common red pozole, he’s made room in his heart for the others.
“I don’t really have a favorite,” he insisted. “They all have some sort of importance in my life – some sort of soft spot.”
To Mena, there’s no real reason that pozole can’t be as beloved by New Yorkers as ramen. Both are hearty, standalone dishes, requiring very little in the way of accompaniment.
“Why is ramen what it is, and pozole’s not?” Mena said. “We’re pushing for it. We’re going to do our part.”
Mena’s hardly alone in his love – the festival will feature 11 chefs, each with their own pozole offering.
Mexican-born pastry chef Fany Gerson, who deemed pozole her favorite dish, and recently collaborated with Mena on La Pozoleria, a pop-up entirely devoted to pozole, at the West Village location of her shop La Newyorkina, will present her version of pozole at the festival, along with other high-profile chefs like Kitsch at Indigo, Williamsburg’s Chai Trivedi, Ivan Garcia of Williamsburg’s Mesa Coyoacan, and Casa Enrique’s Cosme Aguilar.
Among the offerings will be less traditional takes on pozole, from a soupless version with oysters by Hugo Orozco of Fort Greene’s Las Santas, to Trivedi’s creation, inspired by matzo ball soup. Mena will be supplying a vegetarian green pozole spiced with pumpkin seeds and serrano chiles.
Other options will include:
- A pozole rojo, or red pozole, with braised beef short ribs, from Ivy Stark of Casa Bocado
- A seafood pozole with Maine lobster, clams, mussels, organic hominy, fennel, toasted sesame & chile de árbol oil, and smoky hoja santa broth, from Gonzalo Rivera of La Esquina
- Pozole ramen with pork-chile guajillo broth, hominy, cabbage, scallions, radishes & pico de gallo, from Julian Medina of Toloache and La Chula
- Sinaloan-style pozole rojo with pig head, from Luis Arce Mota of La Contenta
- Pozole rojo from Fernando Navas of Balvanera
- “Pozole Garibaldi” from Ivan Garcia of Mesa Coyoacan
Festival-goers will also be treated to some premium Mexican booze. Mezcal, the smoky, small-batch agave spirit that has long played second fiddle to tequila outside of Mexico, will have its own spotlight at Bowl of ‘Zole.
Unlike tequila, the vast majority of mezcal is still produced by hand: Mezcales de Leyenda, which Mena is a partner in, sources its product from small distilleries run by only three or four people, who cook the agave in underground pits. That, to Mena and to many Mexicans, is what makes mezcal “cultura liquida” – liquid culture. “It’s rustic,” Mena said. “It’s traditional, it’s as Mexican as anything you’ll have.”
The event will showcase 50 different bottles of mezcal by 20 producers, including Mena’s and Torren’s own brands along with others like Montelobos, Wahaka Mezcal, and Espiritu Lauro. There will also be wine, beer, cider, and Mexican rum.
The event will take place at 110 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg this Saturday, February 29th, from 1pm to 3pm. Buy tickets here.