Cool Shit To Do Alert: Cinco de Mayo, Done Right

A chef takes back the holiday.

May 3, 2016 ● 1 min read

Yes, Oakland chef Dominica Rice-Cisneros is celebrating Cinco de Mayo this week at her restaurant, Cosecha.

But! Don’t go expecting to just pound margaritas (not that you would, because you know that Mexican Independence Day is actually in September, and you happen to seek authenticity and good tortillas first). Cosecha's got something a little different in mind. 

Growing up in Los Angeles in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Rice-Cisneros says, “a lot of the Mexican restaurants kind of carried that Cinco de Mayo vibe, or they felt they had to, all year round.” Mexican restaurants, she says, degraded themselves as they began catering to gringos looking to binge-drink Corona. “So it's like, this is the restaurant where it's acceptable if you totally get wasted: the Mexican restaurants.”

She's out to redefine how the holiday is represented in a dining context. “When you go to a Mexican restaurant, it's not to get wasted on tequila. It's to appreciate tequila, it's to appreciate mescal. And purchase it from people who can talk about it and prepare it with respect. It's finding those Mexican restaurants that do that.”

The holiday traditionally commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, and coincides with the 1801 birth of Pío Pico, the last governor of Alta California under Mexican rule; Rice-Cisneros is equally invested in both the culinary history of Mexican California, and the renaissance that Mexican-born chefs are currently bringing to the metropolis of Mexico City. 

“They're not importing chefs from New York or from France to be running these high-end hotels or restaurants for tourists and the wealthy," she says. "They're doing high-level, technical food using indigenous ingredients.”

Cosecha is following suit: at the first ever Decolonizing Cinco de Mayo dinner, they'll be serving duck carnitas, an indigenous answer to the more traditional pork, along with grilled asparagus with misantla, a pumpkin seed and chile mole. There's also a mescal pairing — so you should probably get over there.

By Allison Levitsky | Original image via Cosecha