Despite the tantric tangles and endless overlapping of U.S. and Mexican borders, history, demographics, and culture, particularly in our own beloved Southwest, most northern natives are still more familiar with the legends of Persephone, Ariadne, and Narcissus than we are with the mythical pantheon of Central American deities. This unawareness of our own backyard extends, of course, to Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent god that writhed through Mesoamerican civilizations in varying forms and gravity from the early Olmecs to his precious place in the Mayan, Nahua, and Aztec canon. Similarly, vodka and gin still enjoy a more exalted reputation in many casual drinking circles than tequila and mezcal, original spirits rising from the earth of the Americas that are far too often still considered shot fodder.
Enter John Rivera Sedlar, the visionary chef and storyteller acclaimed for his artful extrapolations of Southwestern flavors, images, and plated sensory seductions, tapping his background in classic European fine-dining cooking and bottomless passion for bridging and extolling the history and identities of Latin America and North America to analyze, identify, and satisfy the Añgeleno appetite.
Still pushing his obsessions and abilities to fresh peaks, Sedlar’s new menu at his Downtown restaurant, Rivera, is called "The Hallucination," which the chef says is the result of five years of deliberation and toil.
Teamed with three mixologists at the height of the game (Julian Cox, Eric Alperin, and Julian Wayser), Sedlar’s latest spread, priced at $125 for food and pairings, is a full-throttle tribute to the blue agave, played out in six courses that both break down and build on the characters of mezcal and tequila, heightening their romance by infusing them into dishes, drinks, and desserts.
Sedlar takes his inspiration from the legend of Quetzalcoatl and his 400-breatsed love, Mayahuel, a tragic story we’ve even seen played out in murals gracing a few taco trucks in town. We won’t spoiled the entire story, given that you can hear it narrated with a call from the restaurant on your cellphone, but needless to say, it doesn’t end well for the star-crossed lovers, winding up with the deity and his fellow gods crying, their united tears dropping to the earth and giving birth to the blue agave, its fermented nectar soothing the god’s pain through its "blissful hallucinations."
Last night, chef Sedlar invited food and dining media to Rivera as his first hosted guests to try the new menu, an imaginative interplay of new world ingredients and modern techniques that characteristically speaks as much to the spirit of L.A. as it honors the soil and soul of Jalisco.
It’s difficult to think of anyone but this particular chef (who for ten years lead elaborate, experimental examinations and meticulous tastings through the Tequila-breeding region for industry professionals as a spokesperson for Patron, has a wall of individually locked, personally-procured extra-añejo in French crystal bottles for Rivera "members," and even has his own Highlands-set rancho of blue agave set to hit bottle in 2016) to honor the agave with an equal sense of duty, passion, and grace. The chef tells us this is just the beginning, too, as his celebration of tequila will continue through further menus, tastings, and tours in the months to come.
Come take a look at Rivera’s new "Hallucinations" menu in our slideshow and let us know if we need to call you a cab when it’s through.