In less than a year, chef Enrique Olvera’s first New York City venture has become one of the hottest tables in town—and we’d expect nothing less from the man who presides over Pujol, his groundbreaking restaurant in Mexico City. His latest project? Manta, located in The Cape, A Thompson Hotel, which just debuted in Los Cabos.
“I’ve been coming here for a few years, and I’ve always loved the destination,” Olvera says. Taking a cue from the restaurant’s beachside locale, Olvera has created a casual spot spotlighting local seafood, where he is incorporating both Peruvian and Japanese techniques. “I felt there was a connection between ceviche in Peru and sashimi in Japan, and I want to create dishes that are fun to eat, but also light and good for you,” he says.
We caught up with Olvera right after the opening of Manta.
What was your first international journey?
Disneyland. I went with my parents when I was around six. They still have a picture of me from that trip in their TV room back home. I’ve been back with my own kids. I also remember going to Knott’s Berry Farm and my mom wanted me to ride a rollercoaster, but they wouldn’t let me because I wasn’t tall enough.
What was your latest trip?
Where to next?
New York, San Sebastian in Spain, and Cabo.
Aisle or window seat?
Aisle on long trips, window on short trips.
Check or carry on?
Check on long trips, carry-on on short trips.
What destination do you hate sharing with others?
Puerto Escondido, Mexico. It’s very small, so most people outside of Mexico are not aware of the area. When beaches get too popular there, they start growing like crazy and it destroys the small town magic. Instead, it becomes a beach resort. That’s one of the few places that still has that magic, and I would love for it to stay like that.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
Allegra, my wife.
What was your worst flying experience?
Monterrey, Mexico, to New York turned into a one-day journey through Chicago because of a snowstorm.
What is the strangest thing you've carried-on?
Ants. That’s just one of many things. We serve ants at Pujol, and when we go to food festivals or demos, we carry them on. Sometimes that ask what I have in my luggage and when I say “ants,” they go crazy. When we opened Cosme in New York, I carried on limestone in the form of a white powder that looks like cocaine, which we use to make the tortillas. I got a lot of questions. After that I decided not to carry it on anymore.
What is the strangest thing you've ever bought on the road?
Food. I love to eat almost everything. I bought blood in Spain once to make a sauce, which most people wouldn’t think to buy.
Is there one item that is always in your suitcase?
What is the most interesting encounter you've had with a stranger on the road?
A cab driver in Buenos Aires who was also a poet. He started talking about the city, and it turned into a beautiful tour—and completely improvised.
What is the best book you've read on the road?
El Vizconde Demediado by Italo Calvino, which I read while I was in Spain. It’s a short novel about a military guy who is split in two in battle, and half of him becomes good and half becomes bad. I think there are good and bad parts to us when we travel.
If you could live the life of classic explorer, whose would you chose?
Vasco da Gama.
What is your most memorable meal from your travels?
I could give you hundreds, but the most recent was at Sawada in Tokyo. It's a small sushi restaurant that only has space for six people, and the chef is Kogi Sawada. To me, that’s one of the most spectacular places on earth. I travel to Japan once a year just to eat there.
And in Spain, Sebastian, I love both Mugaritz and Asador Etxebarri. They are very different from each other, but both create complex dishes that look and taste simple and subtle. This is the kind of food I like.
What is your favorite souvenir?
Local crafts or art, like paintings and photography.
If your travels were a movie, what film would they be?
Lost in Translation.
What's your travel soundtrack?
Speaking in Tongues by the Talking Heads.