Mexico City inspired Mychal Dynes and Mark Wooten to open Little Conejo, their taco and mezcal palace in downtown Vancouver. A continuing fascination with mezcal recently led them farther south to Oaxaca, Mexico, for a five-day trip with their chef de cuisine, Doug Linn.
Eduardo Belaunzaran, managing partner of Wahaka Mezcal and Back Alley Imports and official mezcal ambassador of CRM (a nonprofit organization that works closely with the Mexican government to regulate mezcal), organized their trip to replant agave. Replanting these fibrous succulents is crucial to the future of mezcal production — they are the main ingredient in the distilled alcoholic beverage, which is made from the same plant as tequila. The plants must grow for 15 years to produce a quality spirit.
“Ironically, when it’s time to harvest, it’s about to procreate,” Dynes explained as we sat with co-owner Mark Wooten in their ocean-colored restaurant at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday. Wooten added to the agave story, “It’s gathered all its energy, all its sugar for the last push and that’s the right time to harvest.” This prevents the plants from naturally reproducing. In addition, the entire agave plant is harvested for mezcal, so they must be constantly replanted to replenish the supply.
Dynes, Wooten and Linn traveled to remote areas for the replanting project and to visit historic Monte Alban and the Del Maguey palenque. Monte Alban was one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica and the center of Zapotec life for close to a thousand years. The Zapotecs of the central valleys called themselves the “cloud people” because the governing class believed they came from gods who lived in the clouds and that they would return there upon their death. This large city of stone was built on a mountain to be closer to those deities. Dynes was in awe of this spiritually significant historical site.
“The idea that they made this place on top of this mountain in the year 500 gave me this deep sense of awe and reverence for their culture. There were Zapotecs selling little figures as an homage to their culture. They were warriors they would craft out of clay.”