Scientist’s quest to reproduce abuela’s mole recipe ends in failure
(PNS reporting from RIVERSIDE) After a decade-long quest to duplicate his Oaxacan abuela’s mole poblano recipe, UC Riverside food scientist Miguel Jimenez, 33, declared defeat Sunday.
Microbologist Jimenez had hoped to identify the ingredients in the mysterious chocolate chile sauce his abuela puts on chicken.
“She won’t give anyone the recipe!” said Jimenez, as he kicked his chair and wiped away tears at UCR’s Chucheria Research Facility. “Abuelita just pinches my cheek and tells me to portarme bien and go to church more.”
Jimenez’s food obsession began when he was banned from entering his abuela’s kitchen – because he was a boy. His sisters and mom were free to snack on the foods and lick the spoon from the flan caramel, he said, but he was forced play outside. “Men have it so hard,” he sobbed. “Being a woman must be so fun.”
From then on, Jimenez was determined to recreate all his grandma’s recipes and, he realized recently, publish them on Instagram — with no filters.
He knew the sauce traditionally contains peanuts, chile ancho, almonds, cilantro, onions and chocolate, but the other, mystery ingredients in the receta haunted his dreams, and soon turned into a waking nightmare.
“There have been rumors of other herbs and spices, unusual nuts and legacy varietal verduras y berries,” Jimenez said, lying on the floor in the fetal position. “My tia said there’s Gatorade in there. A nephew said goat milk.”
Colleagues at Jimenez’ research facility first became concerned after they saw him threatening a viejita on Skype.
“Every scientist gets fixated on something once in a while,” colleague Roy Higgins told PNS between bites of chiles rellenos. “But Miguel is losing it over this recipe.”
Who made the chiles rellenos, then? Higgins said Jimenez’ grandmother had made them after declaring him to be a “bien chulo gringo.”
“Yo, I’ll take what I can get,” Higgins said, scarfing guacamole. “I don’t need to know what’s in this. I’m grateful for what I got.”
Grandma Doña Soledad Purisima sees no need to reveal her secret.
“A quien pinches le importa lo que le ponga a mi mole poblano! My Miguelito’s job is only to eat it,” she told PNS.
When Jimenez crawled under a table at the center’s cafeteria Friday, where he’d been eating Nutella cake, weeping and asking everyone who peaked underneath the table if they thought Nutella would be good in mole, concerned co-workers manhandled him into a car and drove him to his abuela’s house in Riverside’s Ramona neighborhood, where they deposited him in a heap on her front lawn.
When she saw him, her reaction was in character:
Ai yai yai! This boy is not worthy of the recipe!