All the right ingredients

By Kari Costanza, just back from Mexico.

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Michoacán, Mexico. (Jon Warren/WV)

Last week, photographer Jon Warren and I were in Michoacán, Mexico, doing a story on World Vision child sponsorship and microfinance. Microfinance involves giving small loans to people—usually in groups—to grow small businesses. The program is hugely successful. We wanted to find out if microfinance in communities with sponsorship yields even better results for families. You’ll have to wait until one of next year’s magazines for the story.

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Yolanda and her family. (Jon Warren/WV)

Jon and I try to focus on one family to tell our stories. I remember stories best when I can connect them with faces. We found a wonderful, hard-working family with three sponsored children. They’re using their loan to run a number of businesses—a taco stand, a pork carnitas business, and they create beautiful local handicrafts. The bags are made from the wool of their own sheep, and they’re so lovely that I became a customer.

We spent three days with the family. They told us about the challenges in their community—how poverty forces migration. How migration disintegrates families. And how for them, family is everything.

As we left, the family’s mother, Yolanda, said, “Come tomorrow for dinner. I’ll make mole.”

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Mole in Mexico. (Jon Warren/WV)

I had mole (pronounced mol-ay) once before in San Antonio, Texas, at what is supposed to be Barbara Bush’s favorite restaurant. I was disappointed. The sauce was runny and I didn’t taste the chocolate. But I looked forward to the experience of eating with the family.

The next afternoon, we arrived as the family was making mole near the taco stand. They’d set up a table in the middle of the road for us. We watched the process—stirring the chocolate, chilies, and onions in a cast-iron pot, then letting the mixture bubble like a geyser at Yellowstone. Yolanda made blue-corn tortillas, and rice, and stewed a chicken we’d seen the day before—when it still had feathers.

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Yolanda treats Kari to a superb mole meal. (Jon Warren/WV)

The mole was delicious, thick and grainy, with amazing flavor. I’ve never had anything like it—chocolate and chilies together. I wished Barbara Bush could taste it. The chicken was perfectly cooked. I had a thigh and Mexican rice covered in dark-brown mole sauce. The family asked if I wanted more. I said, “Yes, please—but just mole. Just give me more of that mole.”

As Yolanda spooned mole on my rice and chicken I thought, This could be a Food Network show.

My daughter, Claire, and I love the Food Network. Sometimes, on weekends, we’ll watch shows together (she especially loves Giada) and prepare special dishes while my son, Nick, shakes his head in dismay. What I was experiencing—sitting in the street with a family I loved, knowing their incredible story, and enjoying their delicious mole—was the genesis of program the likes of which I’ve never seen. It had all the ingredients for good TV. Jon agreed and suggested adding a guest chef to travel to a different country, meet a family, and then learn to cook their way.

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Making tortillas the old-fashioned way. (Jon Warren/WV)

The show would combine context and cuisine. You’d learn about the issues that people face—in Michoacán, there’s poverty, a powerful drug mafia, and deforestation threatening the existence of the Monarch butterflies that fly back every winter. You’d learn how people make their food—and why it tastes better that it does at a first lady’s favorite restaurant.

World Vision meets the Food Network. My question is: Would you watch it?

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2 Comments

Filed under On Assignment

2 responses to “All the right ingredients

  1. Ryan Smith

    Hi Kari,

    The idea for your show sounds a bit like one of my favorite shows: No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, from the Travel Channel. Bourdain eats his way through various countries, learning a bit about their culture and the people that make local food. But he doesn’t join them in making the food, which could be an interesting twist.

    In short, I’d watch.

  2. One of our most popular segments on the World Vision Report is our “What’s Cooking?” feature, where our reporters do exactly what you did … watch the experts at work, participate, eat. In fact, we had a report on “The Secrets of Mole” on Oct. 10 — see http://tr.im/mexican_mole.

    Personally, I’ve never tried mole, but as it takes two of my favorite things (chocolate and chilis) and puts them together, I’m sure it would quickly become another bad habit.

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