Savory Scents and Stories from Brooklyn Bowl of ‘Zole
The first sign of Bowl of ‘Zole’s triumphant homecoming wasn’t the banner ushering guests into the spacious 5 2 A Venue at Industry City. Rather, it was the breeze drifting down the sidewalks in Brooklyn, redolent of chiles, hominy, and a melange of savory broths. The scent beckoned to a night both festive and meaningful as Bowl of ‘Zole teamed up with community partner City Harvest.
Connoisseurs truly attuned to the food and beverage scene turned out for NYC’s most underrated food festival. The mood was celebratory as attendees entered raffles, plucked tasting bowls from tables, and danced to DJ Benofonte, Oscar Leon Bernal, and Felipe Mendez-Candelas’ euphoric beats between bites and sips.
The all-inclusive event featured over 120 vibrant expressions of agave spirits and beverages from an illustrious list of brands including Del Maguey, Los Siete Misterios, Lot001, Cruz del Fuego, and Monopolio. Tequila, mezcal, sotol, and Topo Chico sparkled alongside the evening’s star of tantalizing interpretations of classic and contemporary pozole from more than 20 of New York City’s top chefs.
Award-winning and up-and-coming chefs stepped up in Brooklyn to present their renditions of the brothy stew and donate ample batches to City Harvest, New York City’s largest food rescue organization feeding nearly 1.2 million New Yorkers.
While pozole is typically made with pork and hominy garnished with a medley of shredded cabbage, radishes, onions, cilantro, and lime, chefs at Bowl of ‘Zole showcased a multitude of flavors, from the deeply traditional to thrillingly inventive.
Familial inspiration infused many of the pozoles at the bustling festival. Felipe Mendez-Candelas of the Michelin Guide-recommended La Superior worked behind a marigold-filled table lined with alluring soft pink tequila cocktails. He deftly ladled a rojo seafood pozole into tasting bowls and finished each with skewered shrimp and chicharron, recounting, “This recipe is inspired by my uncle’s recipe.”
“It wasn’t vegan when she made it, but this was my mother’s recipe,” Jajaja’s chef mused as he tweezered precision-cut vegetables atop Mama’s Pozole, a vegan pozole verde made with jackfruit and shiitake mushrooms. Mom’s influence spilled over into Carlos Salazar’s pozole, too. The Mayahuel chef handed out Pozole de Tres Chiles, its broth a sweet and spicy harmony of guajillo, costeño, and puya chiles.
As chefs channeled their families’ culinary traditions into bowls of pozole, there was also a laser focus on the methods and ingredients that define the famous Mexican stew.
Luis Arce Mota of La Contenta meticulously prepared each element of his Classic Pork Pozole individually to assemble on-site for impeccably composed portions. He cooked the hominy for hours separately from the pork for tender kernels without overcooked meat. He carefully selected a blend of chiles, striking a balance of heat and flavor in a full-bodied broth.
Cosme Aguilar revealed that, for his Pork Pozole, “using a whole pig’s head sets Casa Enrique’s pozole apart.” Mesa Coyoacan’s Iván Garcia incorporated pig’s head into his traditional pork pozole, too, and used corn from fellow Michelin Guide-recognized and festival participant, Sobre Masa.
Sobre Masa’s Zach Wangerman showcased a pork pozole with his renowned tortillas as accompaniments. He detailed that he sources Mexican chiles for his pozole to ensure standards of flavor and quality just as he imports heirloom corn from Mexico to achieve remarkable tortillas. Similarly, Tomas de la O echoed the importance of top-notch ingredients and said good epazote was key for Marcela Cocina Mexicana’s pozole verde.
Henry Zamora of Tacos Güey, lauded for its carefully engineered menu, deliberately chose a heritage breed of pork for his Pozole with Berkshire Pork and Cilantro Shoots. He credited the dish’s savoriness and rich profile to the pork’s flavor and fat content.
Pork certainly was king at Bowl of ‘Zole, but lamb (Lamb Neck Pozole from Ursula’s Eric See, Lamb Shank and Pork from Moisés López of Tobalá), chicken (Panzón’s Pozole with Smoked Chicken from Fredy Llanos), seafood (Justin Bazdarich’s Shrimp Pozole with Masa Crumble from Oxomoco, Pozole de Camaron from Julian Medina of El Fish Marisquería), and vegetarian pozole (Mijo’s Pozole Esquites from Fany Gerson) made delightful counterpoints.
Playful pozole interpretations made an impression at Bowl of ‘Zole: Arturo Jimenez of Casa Mezcal, the first mezcaleria in the United States, incorporated yellow Oaxacan mole and squash blossoms into his Pozole Mole Amarillo, while Cruz Del Sur’s Hugo Orozco presented pozole oysters, freshly shucked all night long. Also representing La Chula, another of his restaurants, Julian Medina reimagined pozole as flavor-packed dumplings in a spiced coconut broth.
As the pots of pozole emptied and the winners of giveaways from Anova Culinary were announced, Fany Gerson’s La Newyorkina paletas began appearing in hands (and swirled in a few mezcal cups) for a sweet finale. Reluctant to bring Bowl of ‘Zole to a close, the crowd danced over to Sunset Park’s Mama Tried for a lively afterparty presented by Cruz de Fuego, Flor Del Desierto, and Amatiteña.
Although the celebration in Brooklyn wrapped up the 2023 Bowl of ‘Zole Tour, the festival returns in 2024 in Brooklyn, Boston, and Denver. Be the first to know when Bowl of ‘Zole comes to a city near you by subscribing to the Food Karma newsletter and following along on social media.