LA Plaza Cocina, the first museum dedicated to Mexican food and extension of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a cultural space in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles that hosts events, exhibits, and programs that celebrates Mexican cultures, opened on February 7. LA Cocina, which boasts a modern kitchen complete with a large iron comal as the centerpiece, plans to be an interactive venue for local chefs and traditional cooks, a place to host cooking demos as well as accommodate private events. The museum’s first exhibit offers a window into the foundation of Mexico’s indigenous heritage of corn.
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 multi-use apartment complex that houses the museum, and how it would potentially take traffic and visitors away from the historic tourist destination. It’s unclear if those concerns remain in spite of ongoing challenges for Olvera Street vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though delayed for years, LA Plaza Cocina is finally ready to host visitors with its first exhibit. Curated by Maite Gomez Rejón and Ximena Martin, Maize: Past, Present, and Future is a tribute to Indigenous invention, innovation, and food culture. The exhibit displays the Mesoamerican tools used to shell dried corn, transform the grain through nixtamalization (cooking in slaked lime) into malleable, nutritious masa, corn dough for tortillas, tamales, and antojitos. The photos were donated by Masienda, a museum partner, and are a tribute to the display’s icon: Doña Hilaria Catalina Benito Galvan, a traditional Zapoteca cook from the Valles Centrales of Oaxaca. Located directly across from the comal, the exhibition aims to center the contribution of Indigenous corn to the world.
Martin says that many of the featured 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 asked to return to conduct demos or classes. Additionally, LA Cocina is committed to creating a venue for Indigenous and Afromexicano cooks who are often left out of the dialogue when it comes to Mexican cuisines. “We also want to bring in the home cooks, not just the famous ones,” says Martin.
Cooking demos that give each cook the chance to tell their story will include a pair of dishes based on masa. Other events on the schedule include Mexican wine tastings, mezcal classes, and documentaries featuring local chefs, cooks, and players in LA’s heirloom corn renaissance like chef Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria and Kernel of Truth. Rounding out the experience is a book store featuring hyperlocal cookbooks by 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 grain, Indigenous culture, and the delicious antojitos that Angelenos crave.
La Plaza Cocina is open Monday to Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.