Sunday, March 3, 2013

Food writer, filmmaker, and chef Adán Medrano presents a provocative evening of food and film

Thursday, March 28, at Aurora Picture Show, Houston-based food writer, filmmaker, and chef Adán Medrano presents "An Evening of Texas Mexican Food, Film, and Meaning," an event inspired by Medrano's passion of for great cooking and provocative filmmaking. Guests will enjoy a nine-course meal of Texas Mexican dishes, each one prepared by Medrano, while viewing a program of short films by Chicano filmmakers, including Medrano, Willie Varela, Laura Varela and Vaago Weiland, and Ray Santisteban. The meticulously planned order of the dishes and corresponding films shows how two distinct mediums, cooking and film, can define ethnic and cultural identity.

Photo by Lynn Lane
For Medrano (pictured right), a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chicano identity has been sustained over time not only by great cooking, but through independent, forward-thinking filmmaking as well.

"After going to so many restaurants in the U.S," says Medrano, who began cooking seriously at age 18, "it's become clear to me that the food I cook, and that my mother cooked, and that most of us Mexican Americans or Chicanos cook, is different than what is available in restaurants. And that difference is very important because it sustains our identity. It strengthens us. It defines us."

"We are our food," says Medrano. "Other people say that, but in this case, it's really true."

In 1976, after majoring in communications at college, Medrano founded the Chicano Film Festival, now known as the CineFestival, in order to provide a public venue for works by Chicano filmmakers.

"The first year (of the festival)," says Medrano, "2,000 people showed up. We had it outdoors. We slapped up some sheets on the back of a building and some scaffolding, climbed up a tree and projected the darn things! It was thrilling to finally see ourselves being expressed by our own moviemakers." The festival is the longest running Latin American film festival in the U.S.

The films Medrano has curated for "An Evening of Texas Mexican" include Medrano's I Work The Land, Willie Varela's Detritus, Laura Varela and Vaago Weiland's Enlight Tents (pictured left), and Santisteban's Have You Seen Marié?. Medrano will be serving a different dish for each one of the films.

"I'm calling the dishes courses, but they're really like scenes," explains Medrano. "Scene one is seafood (smoked trout with chipotle-yerbaniz mayonnaise followed by Texas cactus and gulf coast shrimp canapé), so we can get away from beans and rice. We Mexicans lived for thousands of years on the coast!" Medrano describes his film, which will run during this course, as "almost like an opening prayer to the meal."

The second scene correlates a complex dish of pecan-smoked pork loin and pickled chile chipotle meatballs with the work of filmmaker Willie Varela who Medrano considers to be "a pioneer in the development and definition of avant-garde, personal expression in film in the U.S."

"Detritus is a remix he did of an earlier work," says Medrano. "It combines found footage from silent films and horror films with contemporary films that he shot of his home life. Varela puts these things together with emphasis on timing, pacing, and texture, lots of texture."

"The food at this stage will still be delicious, but it does go into a more complex formulation of the plate, just like the film, which is similarly more complex."

The film Enlight Tents, one of two films that accompany the meal's final "scene," creatively documents a performance at the Alamo that explored that site's connection to Native American history and included several specially-constructed, inner-lit conical tents and large-scale video projections onto the facade of the Alamo itself. Was this a guerilla performance?

"It wasn't a guerilla performance in the formal sense," says Medrano, who isn't sure if the performers actually asked permission from the Alamo to project images onto the building. "But it was in the real sense. Because who are you gonna sue? What is the charge?"

Enlight Tents and the film that will follows it, Have You Seen Marié?, which draws on author Sandra Cisneros' book of the same title for its inspiration, document and then transfer, in very personal terms, a production by a Chicano artist from one artistic medium into another, the medium of film.

In his essay "Art as Technique," Viktor Shklovsky writes, "Art exists so that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things. To impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known." Shklovsky could just as easily be describing the experience of enjoying pork empanadas, perhaps with a shot or two of tequila, while viewing the works of great Chicano and Chicana filmmakers.

"If you come to this event," says Medrano. "you will never be able to eat popcorn in front of your TV set in the same way again."

Aurora Picture Show presents "An Evening of Texas Mexican Food, Film, and Meaning," Thursday, March 28 at 6:30 PM at Aurora Picture Show, 2442 Bartlett Street, Houston, TX. Aurora Members: $40, Non-members: $60. For tickets, visit or call 713-868-2101.

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