A Mexican Adventure

Mexican food pioneer Thomasina Miers joins us as Glastonbury Guest Chef 2023

Winner of BBC’s Masterchef and Co-founder of Mexican street food chain Wahaca, Thomasina Miers is one of our most celebrated cooks, writers and campaigners. A pioneer of the Mexican food revolution sweeping through the UK, she’s also on a mission to revolutionise the way we eat. No better place to start than a field in Glastonbury. This year we’re excited to welcome Tommi to our Yurtel camp as guest chef for Glastonbury Festival 2023. She chats to us about her love of all things Mexican and the inspiration behind the Yurtel menu.

How did you discover your love of Mexican food?

I travelled to Mexico when I was 18 not expecting anything other than TexMex.  I discovered a country rich in biodiversity, full of a vast and intriguing array of dishes and recipes depending on which region I was in – it was the beginning of a long love affair!

What are some of the most memorable dishes you’ve had in Mexico?

It sounds like a cliché, but some of the best have been the simplest.  I still remember a yellow mole that a woman served us in a mezcal field with huge corn tortillas, masses of the sauce and tiny pieces of meat to scoop up – it was mouth-watering; or the courgette flower quesadillas I made with three generations of cooks from the same family with a little pork fat (asiento) rubbed onto the tortilla, the local Oaxacan string cheese and hoja santa, a fresh herb used in many dishes in that region; or fishing for a local clawless lobster in Campeche and grilling them on a fire and slathering them with the most amazing chilli and garlic paste, and eating them with rich black beans and a wonderful habanero salsa.  I feel that I am made up with so many incredible food memories like these from my time in Mexico.

You set up Wahaca back in 2006. What have been the most rewarding and challenging moments?

By far the most rewarding was the reaction from the Mexican community.  There was so much pleasure that we were trying to show people that TexMex had little to do with the cuisines of Mexico that I had tasted and learnt about on my travels and time living in Mexico.  We always tried to delve into Mexico’s rich culture and talk about its art, history, music and culture.  We felt it had been so misrepresented and we needed to show a different side to Mexico, a more real one.  The biggest challenge was how little experience I had in working in kitchens and trying to open such a big restaurant with only one Mexican in the kitchen – there is such a small population of Mexicans in the UK  that that was a huge challenge.

Mexican food and culture is really having a moment right now (hugely down to your influence!). Why do you think it’s so popular?

Mexican food is bright and colourful; it is tactile; it is delicious and hugely diverse; in Mexico you can eat like a King and there is a really strong food culture that permeates every part of life so as people travel there they come back with a deeper and broader understanding of what it is.  I feel that there is something for everyone too – whether rich, exotic moles, fresh salads or ceviches or simply outrageously good street food that is really engaging and fun to eat.

There’s a real diversity to Mexican cuisine and ingredients. Is that difficult to replicate here in the UK?

Yes.  Mexico is classified as ‘mega-biodiverse’ along with 11 other countries in the world.  It has a vast range of wild greens and herbs, wonderful tropical fruit, spices and vegetables not to mention 200 varieties of delicious chillies….it is impossible to capture that complete diversity here but it is nonetheless possible to capture some of its delicious range.

Why is eating sustainably and organically so important to you?

I grew up caring about the planet and nature, being in nature with my parents and appreciating it.  I think people are only just beginning to appreciate how linked climate is to how we produce and consume food.  Until we start respecting and valuing where our ingredients come from and how they are grown we cannot pretend to care about the planet and the wildlife that lives on it.  How we eat in the next 20 years, and how we value the people who grow our food, and the soil in which it is grown, will shape the future of our planet – it is that simple.

What was the inspiration behind the Yurtel Glastonbury menu?

I wrote a book, Meat Free Mexican, last year, inspired by Mexico’s rich biodiversity and its wonderful range of fruit and vegetables so there is a strong seasonal aspect to my menu, coupled with a mouth-watering selection of dishes that I have slowly developed over time, which I know are as colourful and appealing to look at as they are good to eat.  So expect lots of seasonality, some delicious well-sourced meats, and some really naughty puddings inspired by Mexico’s two native ingredients, vanilla and cacao.

What’s your favourite place for breakfast, coffee and dinner?

I love the explosion of brilliant bakeries that have opened up across the UK.  I am currently munching on a pastry from Jolene made with Wildfarmed flour, a flour grown without any herbicides, pesticides or fungicides; I love coffee out with my dog Chippy, walking him, and letting the sunlight in (along with the coffee).  As for dinner, my current favourite is Straker’s but I am a huge fan of so many of the restaurants in London that are managing to keep their doors open despite energy costs, a dire shortage of staff in the industry and a sheer love of hospitality.

What’s next for you? 

Very good question!  I am a trustee of Chefs in Schools where we are making real headway in the school food space proving to government that it is entirely possible, and very advantageous and necessary, to feed children real food in schools.  As for cooking and everything else I will continue to cook, create recipes and work in that sweet spot that is food, soil and health (whether planetary or human, it is all the same).