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Sunday, December 10, 2023

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Cheers from Enrique Hernandez, executive chef at Snapdragon Stadium. (Benjamin Eisenstein / SDSU) Cheers from Enrique Hernandez, executive chef at Snapdragon Stadium. (Benjamin Eisenstein / SDSU)

Serving Up the Culinary World of Oaxaca

Enrique Hernandez, executive chef at Snapdragon Stadium, learned a phrase or two from some of the most renowned culinarians in Oaxaca, Mexico.
By Benjamin Eisenstein

This story was published in the Summer 2023 Issue of SDSU Magazine.

In collaboration with SDSU’s Aztec Identity Initiative, which focuses on respectful and accurate engagement with the university’s Aztec identity, Hernandez traveled to the SDSU Oaxaca Center for Mesoamerican Studies in February as part of an Aztec Shops delegation. Here’s how the SDSU community can expect to benefit from this cross-cultural experience. 

So, SDSU chefs in Oaxaca: How did that come about?

It’s three things. 1) We want to support SDSU’s mission to transcend borders; 2) this is about honoring and celebrating Aztec culture in a way that’s culturally authentic and 3) we’re looking to create an experience that cannot be matched in any other university environment.

What was the trip like?

We learned from some bona fide stars in Oaxacan cuisine. I’m talking about award-winning chefs like Celia Florian and Vicky Hernandez and Rodolfo Castellanos. We learned everything from shopping strategies at the local mercados to techniques in the kitchen.

And you’ll be bringing back some of these recipes to SDSU, right?

We chefs are applying what we learned to an expanded Menú Azteca that will debut on campus — first in catering and then hopefully at places like Aztec Markets, Faculty-Staff Club, The Garden and UTK — and at Snapdragon Stadium in the fall.

Can you offer any preview of the menu?

Authentic, pre-European Aztec menus are big on maize [corn] and nopal [cactus]. So, expect more items similar to the Tamal Azteca, a tamale that football fans enjoyed at Snapdragon, quesadillas with Oaxacan cheese, enchiladas with mole negro and spicy chocolate desserts. 

Anything for adventurous guests?

The Chapulines Azteca will be back. Those are toasted grasshoppers mixed with roasted nuts and spices. Also expect a new molcajete [fire-roasted] salsa ground with chicatanas — smoky, salty Oaxacan ants. 

What’s your lasting memory from the trip?

On the last day, we prepared a meal for the staff at the SDSU Oaxaca Center for Mesoamerican Studies. We inaugurated its kitchen and traditional comal [a griddle made from sandstone], and I can tell you the view from the rooftop is sensational.