Life tastes like corn. “A colored corn“. His most endearing moments revolve around him and the cornfield, the one that provides food. All this enclosed in a plate will take Elio to Italy. It is Eliodoro Xicum Cobá, who represents Latin America in the “Fine Dining Lovers” category of the “Saint Pellegrino Young Chef”, whose final will be in Milan on October 30th.
Elio Xicum, from Chumayel to Milan
He was born in Chumayel, Yucatán, 31 years ago. He is the youngest of a family of 10 (laughs when he says it): his parents, seven older sisters and him who never thought of being a cook, although his story is told through food. Not only his, but also that of the indigenous peoples, “those people who have made the kitchen all their lives and who have made it how great it is.”
“I tell stories with my dishes. I tell the story of Doña María who got up every day at 5 in the morning to sell panuchos and pay for her son’s studies… That son is me and she is one of the many Marías who break their back in Mexico ”, He narrates by phone during a break from his work as Executive Chef of the restaurant “La Perla Pixan Cuisine”, in Playa del Carmen.
He is a Maya speaker. His accent is strong. His say, fast and enjoyable. He talks excited about what he does, what he dreams of and his roots. And that excites those who listen to it. Thus, he admits that he was unsure about entering the contest. The 2016, 2017 and 2018 editions passed.
Yucatecan finalist in the “Saint Pelegrino young Chef”
Finally, in 2019, his last year in which he could participate as it was a pageant for under 30s, he was encouraged. And it did not fail. He was elected among the semifinalists as one of the 135 best young chefs in Latin America. In September of that year, in Lima, Peru, came the triumph and the pass to the final, which was postponed a year due to the pandemic. The young man was chosen as the Latin American representative in the aforementioned category, the one that will take place in just over three weeks and in which he faces 48 chefs from around the world.
“Empowering indigenous peoples through cooking” is a phrase that is repeated several times in their responses. He assumes it as a responsibility. “Unfortunately because they come from communities, sometimes they tell us that you can’t go on any longer … you have to knock on doors or push them if necessary … I tell my cooks: Grow up”, says Elio, as most know him. However, the cook admits that he never thought about dedicating himself to gastronomy.
“I never looked for the kitchen, the kitchen looked for me. I wanted to be a lawyer, ”he recalls. He even said that studying gastronomy was to be contrary to his parents: “Then it was not fashionable.” Eliodoro Xicum Chan wanted his son to be a mechanical engineer. María Isabel Cobá imagined him as a doctor. He preferred cooking at the Universidad de Oriente. What things are: today he is a teacher of his alma mater. From his parents he learned to work as a child in days that began at three in the morning and that allowed him to save those salaries of 500 pesos a week. I cut guayaberas and sewed buttons. “It fills me with nostalgia. My dad is a tailor and my mom grew us up selling panuchos ”.
Mexico, represented with the tamale “Nohoch ná”
His mother’s work left him marked and his favorite dish is salbut, “whatever”. Of the Mexican cuisine, mole is the favorite. However, a tamale is the one that will take you to Milan. Not just anyone. It is one made of turkey gizzards with black recado sauce and Ixil onions cooked under ash. It is called “Nohoch ná” (great mother).
And in the concept he captures everything he believes: that cooking is maternal, gives life and gives everything. It also reflects his family and those images that he does not forget. The dish is served on a handmade plate that simulates a woman who opens her arms and is covered by a shawl. The inspiration was his mother when on a rainy day she covered her nephew with a shawl to protect him.
There are also the talks with his grandmother and a phrase from his grandfather when he saw that they had knocked down the mountain. Eliodoro repeats the phrase in Mayan and then translates it. “Man forgets that the earth is our great mother (“ Nohoch ná ”, the one that is now represented on a plate).
How to vote for Elio Xicum?
In short, its roots are there, all of them, in a tamale “which is a symbol of identity.” “In my kitchen, the story of a people that is still alive will always be told … not only Chumayel or Yucatán, also Mexico … I am empowering people who have made (Mexican gastronomy) great.”
And so, from Chumayel to Milan, the smallest of the Xicum Cobá hopes to take the victory and also asks for support for it. The category in which you participate is won by voting, so you are invited to choose it at the following link:
Dream big. “I want to belong to the 50 best chefs in Latin America. I want a restaurant of my own. More than competing, I seek to continue talking about my people, to continue telling their stories, ”he says. And today he knows that he is on the right track. “I am proud of myself. It is worth feeling proud of yourself. It is not something that has been easy. It is the result of many hours without sleep, cuts and burns. I want to tell the Yucatecan youth that it is possible, although many times they will tell us ‘you are from the community’ ”.
He knows that it comes from the men who were made of colored corn, as recounted in the Popol Vuh and as highlighted in the description of his dish. He has colored corn tattooed on his skin. He knows that the best stories of his life revolve around him, the cornfield, the land and the family that taught him to love them.
Text by Jessica Ruiz Rubio