Chef Mirciny Moliviatis © Andres Amaya
By Raye Mocioiu
Chef Mirciny “Misha” Moliviatis says that food always has a story.
Born and raised in Guatemala, Moliviatis grew up in a food-loving family of restauranteurs, with 28 years of experience running 10 restaurants around the country. While Moliviatis and her siblings grew up surrounded by food, even working at one of her father’s restaurants, her journey to become one of Guatemala’s most famous chefs didn’t start until she began working at elBulli, a restaurant in Spain—a feat in itself, as there were over 5,000 applicants at the time.
Studying under experienced and well-known chefs like Ferran Adria, Moliviatis recalled that the days were grueling—she was one woman among a class of 49 men, and all 50 of them were on a mission to achieve perfection. Still, those days taught her invaluable lessons about hard work, discipline, and, most importantly, that the role of a chef spans far beyond the kitchen.
During this time, Moliviatis made another discovery: even though she had grown up in Guatemala, she didn’t know much about the country’s cuisine. She shared that even when she returned home to Guatemala after school, she infused her cooking with techniques she had learned in Spain, seeking out flavors and ingredients from around the world. It was only when she realized that the flavors she sought could be found in her local markets that her mission became clear.
Enamored with the abundance of flavors that were available in her country, she understood that just as she was unaware of how much there was to discover about Guatemalan food, others would be as well. Even as she researched, there was little information to be found—and so she took it into her own hands.
“A friend and I started a TV show that was called El Sabor de mi Tierra [The Taste of My Land] and started traveling around the country,” Moliviatis explained. “We didn’t have a script or a plan; we just traveled. It was so much fun. We sought out the ‘real cooks’ of Guatemala and learned their techniques, how they worked the land, how they used their tools to create food.”
As Moliviatis explored flavors and dishes she’d never tried before, she understood that many of them were from Mayan times—traditional dishes passed down through many generations.
“Food tells you a story. Behind each dish or each ingredient, there is a story of ancestral cuisine that is still alive and latent, culinary techniques that continue to be used after thousands of years since creation,” she shared.
“In Guatemala, we come from an ancient civilization, the Maya, and we have so much history and culture infused into our food. When people think of Latin America, they think of Mexico and South America, but Central America is amazing. We’re small countries, but we have a lot to share.”
Moliviatis realized that she had the power to amplify the voices of Guatemalan people and was able to share the beauty of Guatemala through food. Through her shows, Puro Chef and Desafío Culinario, and her award-winning book, Viviendo la Receta Guatemala, Moliviatis achieved this mission, making a name for herself as a talented and creative chef while making the beauty and flavors of Guatemala known.
Moliviatis was appointed the Ambassador of Guatemalan Gastronomic Culture, a role that she has embraced wholeheartedly.
“Food is one of the best expressions of culture that a country has, and the best teachers are the people in the field,” she said.
Abuelita Chave’s Tamales
Recipe courtesy of Chef Misha
- 1 ½ pounds of ripe tomatoes
- 2 chili peppers
- 1 chili guaque
- 1 chili raisins
- 2 oz of sesame seeds
- 2 oz of pepitoria (pumpkin seed or squash)
- 1 small stick of cinnamon
- 2 cloves
- 1 oz allspice
- 1 oz of lard
- 1 ½ pound corn dough
- 6 oz of rice
- 8 oz of pig butter
Leaves and Toppings:
- 1 case of banana leaves
- 2 cases of maxán leaves or salt leaves
- 1 bunch of cibaque
- 3 chili peppers to be roasted
- 4 ounces pitted olives
- 4 ounces capers
- 2 pounds pork or chicken
- Cook the tomatoes, chili peppers, chili guaque peppers, and raisins in little water.
- On a skillet, brown the sesame seeds, pepitoria, and cinnamon; blend with the cooked chili mixture after they are browned.
- Strain and boil for 20 minutes, adding an ounce of lard during this time.
- Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
- Cook the rice. Blend it and set it aside.
- Dissolve the corn dough in half a liter of water and blend.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a pot, add the blended dough, and stir constantly. When the mass thickens, add the cooked and blended rice.
- If it gets too thick, add hot water little by little. Continue beating, and when it has boiled long enough, remove from the heat, add the lard, and beat until the lard disappears and is incorporated, and the dough becomes shiny.
- Cut the maxán leaves by the thickest part, wash well. Banana leaves are cut into 9 inch squares. Wash and cook in water for 10 minutes.
- The chili peppers are roasted, peeled, split, deveined, and the seeds removed. Cut into strips and set aside.
- Put a banana leaf square on a maxán, diagonally. Add a portion of dough to the center, add meat, olives, capers, and chili pepper strips. The leaves are folded and closed to form a package and tied with cibaque strips, previously soaked to soften.
- Put the leftover leaves in a large pot, add 4 cups of water, and bring to a boil. The tamales are placed in the pot on top of the leaves. Cover the pot with more leaves and a lid. Boil for about an hour and a half. Serve with lemon wedges.