LA Plaza Cocina, the first museum dedicated to Mexican cuisine and the extension of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a cultural space in the heart of downtown Los Angeles that hosts events, exhibitions and programs celebrating Mexican cultures , opened on February 7. LA Cocina, which features a modern kitchen with a large iron comal as its centerpiece, plans to be an interactive venue for local chefs and traditional cooks, a place to hold cooking demonstrations as well as private events. The museum’s first exhibit offers a window into the foundations of Mexico’s indigenous maize heritage.
When LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes announced plans for La Plaza Cocina in 2019, the community around Olvera Street raised concerns about gentrification and La Plaza Village, a massive new mixed-use apartment complex that will houses the museum, and how it could potentially take traffic and visitors away from the historic tourist destination. It is unclear whether these concerns persist despite the continued challenges for Olvera Street vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although delayed for years, LA Plaza Cocina is finally ready to welcome visitors with its first exhibition. Organized by Maite Gomez Rejón and Ximena Martin, Corn: past, present and future is a tribute to Indigenous invention, innovation and food culture. The exhibition presents the Mesoamerican tools used to shell dried corn, transforming the grain by nixtamalization (cooking with slaked lime) into malleable and nutritious masa, corn dough for tortillas, tamales and antojitos. The photos were donated by Masienda, a museum partner, and are a tribute to the icon of the exhibition: Doña Hilaria Catalina Benito Galvan, a traditional Zapoteca cook from the Valles Centrales of Oaxaca. Located just across from the comal, the expo aims to center the contribution of native maize to the world.
Martin says many star chefs have been active with LA Plaza. Jonathan Pérez (Macheen), Alfonso “Poncho” Martinez (Poncho’s Tlayudas), Gilberto Cetina Jr. (Chichen Itza, Holbox), Jocelyn Ramirez (Todo Verde) and Maria Irra (Tamales Elena y Antojitos) will be invited to take over the direction of demonstrations or Classes. Additionally, LA Cocina is committed to creating a space for indigenous and Afro-Mexican cooks who are often left out of the dialogue when it comes to Mexican cuisines. “We also want to bring home cooks, not just the famous ones,” says Martin.
Cooking demonstrations that will give every cook the chance to tell their story will include a pair of masa dishes. Other events on the schedule include Mexican wine tastings, mezcal classes and documentaries featuring local chefs, cooks and actors from LA’s heritage corn revival like chef Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria and Kernel. of Truth. Rounding out the experience is a bookstore featuring hyperlocal cookbooks from LA-based authors and a gift shop. With the ever-growing interest in Mexican cuisines, LA Cocina is a timely celebration of Mexico’s ancient grains, indigenous culture, and delicious antojitos that Angelenos crave.
The Plaza Cocina is open Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Free entry.