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From Mexico to Adelaide, with love

The Forager

Daniella Guevara hosts “underground dinners” to share with Adelaideans the traditional Mexican food she loves to cook. Now she’s planning to extend her venture by opening her own taqueria.

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Born in Mexico and a marine biologist by training, Guevara decided when she came to Australia with her partner eight years ago that she wanted to switch her focus to her other passion – cooking.

She was particularly taken by the idea of “underground dining”, a concept that involves a social dining experience hosted in someone’s private home and promoted via avenues such as social media and word-of-mouth.

“I had found out that in Europe and in Latin America, they have that type of underground restaurant,” she says.

“And in Mexico, you just invite people to your place, you know? Like parties … I cooked all the time for my friends.”

The idea was put on the backburner while the couple were living in Townsville, Queensland, but when they moved to Adelaide Guevara decided the city’s food culture made it an ideal place to launch the enterprise she has named Mi Mero Mole.

“Mi Mero Mole is an expression we use to say you really like something … in Mexico we have lots of expressions around food.”

She has since hosted around 35 underground dinners, each of which caters for up to 16 diners at a shared table. Assisted by her husband and some friends, Guevara serves five courses of traditional Mexican fare, individually plated.

Daniella Guevara prepares the table for one of her dinners.

“There’s no set rules. People arrive and we always show them how to make the tortillas and they can try to make their own, so that puts them all together and they start chatting.

“I explain each dish when it’s served – which part of the country it is from, a bit of the story behind it, and when we eat it.

“People really enjoy the dinners because it’s like a big party. We are very welcoming and at the end of the dinner when dessert starts we usually sit with them at the table and we talk about everything ­– but mainly food, of course!”

A self-taught cook who grew up in Mexico City and later lived on the Yucatan Peninsula, Guevara says one of her motivations is to introduce Australians to traditional Mexican food, which is very different to the “Tex Mex” style with which many people are familiar.

“You know crunchy tacos? We don’t eat those … or chilli con carne.

“Traditional Mexican food is very fresh, so that’s what I want to show. It can be very tasty and very interesting because we have foods from various regions; it’s very different from the north to south and east to west; it’s amazing. I wanted to show that – how good Mexican food can be.”

The menu at each underground dinner is different. The availability of seasonal produce is a factor, but sometimes Guevera says she is so excited to find a particular ingredient – such as Poblano chillies, for example – that she schedules a dinner especially to showcase it.

Chile en nogada – a celebration of Mexican independence. Photo: Mi Mero Mole

She uses the large chilies to create a dish called Chile en nogada – chillies stuffed with minced pork, dried fruits, almonds and pinenuts, and served in a creamy walnut sauce.

“It’s a very specific dish which we have in Mexico and we eat it only in September [when the country’s independence is celebrated] because the chilli is green, the cream is white and we put pomegranate on top which is red, so that’s the colours of the Mexican flag … this dish was designed to celebrate independence.”

One of Guevara’s favourite dishes, although she admits it’s not for everyone, is mole. Usually eaten with chicken or pork, mole is a rich, thick, dark sauce made with around 20 or more ingredients including dried chillies, spices, nuts and chocolate, and prepared through a laborious process of roasting and grinding.

A lot of Mexican food is related to a story or festivity, and mole is a dish you would cook when you have a big party like a wedding.

“Women, mostly, will get together and cook the dish. It can take several days to prepare – between five and three days.”

Chicken Mole. Photo: Mi Mero Mole

While she is able to find most of the ingredients for her dinners at the supermarket or produce markets, Guevara has a friend in the Adelaide Hills who specially grows the tomatillos (also known as a Mexican husk tomato) that she uses to make her raw salsa verde. She also recently bought chocolate and cacao from Mexico for a special chocolate ice cream.

The success of the underground dinners and private parties was enough to suggest Mi Mero Mole had the makings of a potential business, but it was a stint as a producer-in-residence at the Adelaide Central Market late last year that convinced Guevara to take the next step.

At the market stall she sold tacos – the Mexican version, with soft tortillas made on site – with fillings such as pork, mushrooms, chicken and refried beans.

“It went very, very well. We sold lots of tacos and people were really interested in how tortillas are made and how different they are from the ones you buy in the supermarket. We enjoyed it a lot.”

Inspired by the response, Guevara has secured a lease on a building in Port Adelaide, where she now lives, and intends to open a taqueria, serving soft tacos to eat-in or takeaway. She will also use the space to host the occasional Mexican dinner.

If all goes to plan with the fit-out, the taqueria should be ready to open in late September.

“It will look like a traditional taqueria in Mexico. It will have tiles and be very colourful … but it won’t have sombreros.”

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