Bowl of ‘Zole Pozole Festival, the annual celebration that authentically highlights the unique and comforting combination of pozole and specialty spirits from Mexico, is returning this year with more vendors, celebrated chefs, and plans to expand to a third U.S. city.
Pozole is a hearty Mexican stew typically composed of a rich chili broth, hominy, and pork, and served with cabbage and lime. It’s often eaten during special occasions — a feeling Bowl of ‘Zole captures and shares with festival goers.
Co-founders Arik Torren, a mezcal pioneer, chef Danny Mena of Brooklyn’s La Loncheria, Mezcal de Leyendas, and Pelotón de la Muerte, and Jimmy Carbone of Food Karma Projects, created Bowl of ‘Zole as a way to uniquely honor and celebrate Mexican culture, offer warmth and comfort during chilly seasons, and grow awareness of artisanal mezcals in the United States.
It was only after Torren, Mena, and Carbone moved out of New York to Colorado, Virginia, and Massachusetts, respectively, that their mission to “spread the gospel of mezcal and Mexico,” as Mena puts it, inspired them to expand the festival beyond New York City. The festival will hit Colorado for the first time on March 30, 2023, Boston on April 12, 2023, and its old stomping grounds of Brooklyn on October 19, 2023.
Pozole: A Sacred Tradition
Returning for the fourth year in Brooklyn, this year’s festival will feature a lineup of chefs and mezcal aficionados, such as Hugo Orozco of Cruz del Sur, showcasing renditions of pozole with their own personal twists.
Cruz del Sur, a down-to-earth Brooklyn eatery serving homestyle Mexican specialties like goat birria and carne en su jugo to both New Yorkers and homesick Tapatíos alike, came about when Orozco realized that New York didn’t have a place to enjoy some of the most iconic food from Guadalajara, Jalisco. No stranger to honoring tradition, when he was invited by Mena to participate in the first annual Bowl of ‘Zole festival, Orozco gladly joined in.
“For me, pozole means heritage, culture, and celebration,” says Orozco. “It is the way many families come together and eat, from one huge pot. Then, garnish and top your bowl with the amount of heat, acidity, salt, oregano, etc. [that you like]. It’s one of those foods that you can customize to your preferences.”
At the previous Brooklyn Bowl of ‘Zole festivals, Orozco has served Colima-style oyster pozole seco, a pozole created by shucking oysters and topping them with all the elements of the pozole, as well as presenting a duck magret pozole the following year.
“A great community of Mexican chefs and other nationalities have access to this food and culture melting pot that only happens in cities like this,” says Orozco. “You can be playful and express freely without borders and unite these kinds of heirloom techniques like nixtamalization — a traditional maize preparation process — mixed with the energy and creativity that is around here.”
On March 30, 2023, Denver will experience all that Bowl of ‘Zole has to offer. There, Mena will introduce the pozole and mezcal duo to Colorado locals and enter the festival scene as a “bigger fish in a little sea.” Although the city is no stranger to Mexican culture, the founders see it as one more opportunity to shine a light on celebrated Mexican chefs and continue showcasing their love for agave spirits.
Sharing the Story of Mezcal
“Mezcal is all about the story,” Mena says. “The people that go to these events are people who really care about what they’re consuming. They’re really adventurous about what they’re eating and understanding Mexican culture.”
“Mezcal holds a very important place in my heart and in my life because it represents the diversity and bounty of where I come from,” says Mendoza, whose family has been farming agave in the Jaliscan Highlands for over 140 years and five generations. “All the culinary richness, in one way or another, always comes around to mezcal in its broadest sense. Metaphorically as well as literally, mezcal is the spirit of the cultural richness of Mexico.”
For this year’s second annual Boston Bowl of ‘Zole festival, set to take place on April 12, 2023, Max Toste, industry veteran and owner of Cambridge’s Lone Star Taco Bar, as well as Lenora Taco Bar in Portland, Maine, will be joining the lineup as a lifelong lover of Mexican cuisine and culture.
“I got to know Arik when he was at Fidencio, and through him, Jimmy Carbone, and I heard about this Bowl of ‘Zole festival. Instead of just being a corny trade show for mezcal, it’s an interactive, holistic experience where you’re eating and drinking and there’s a cultural connection,” says Toste. “It just seemed really fun and cool.”
From there, Toste joined in the festivities, previously showcasing his rendition of a corn-based pozole inspired by the flavors of Puebla and Wahaka that he created for his vegetarian dad to enjoy a few summers back. The dish consisted of a broth of mushroom, celery, carrot, onion, aromatics, lots of dried mushrooms, guajillo chilies, ancho chilies, pata negra, and some cascabel peppers. Although this year’s recipe is still in the works, Toste is turning to seafood for inspiration to serve as another twist on the traditional rendition.
“[The festival] is very unique in that it has a party atmosphere, but it’s very serious without taking itself too seriously,” Toste says. “The structure is very much like a food carnival or a farmers’ market, as opposed to a really organized tasting. The focus is on the pozole and the mezcal and [they are] intermingled so you can go from mezcal to pozole, making your rounds and tasting the food and then the spirit. It creates a great, symbiotic thing that can be as intellectual and academic as you want it to be.”
Through word of mouth and a deep appreciation of Mexican culture and tradition, Mena, Torren, and Carbone have crafted Bowl of ‘Zole into an environment both vendors and attendees find unique, and have grown the festival into a new tradition they hope to carry on.
“It’s just a really wonderful cultural event that brings together two aspects that are deeply ingrained in Mexico, and whether it’s tequila, mezcal, or even wine, this is an old cultural thing,” Mena says. “Having mezcal and then a pozole, which is something that I think is underappreciated, is something that just comes together. And to be able to showcase a true Mexican culture without hitting clichés is really nice.”
Join the celebration with great food and even better vibes at one of this year’s Bowl of ‘Zole festival stops, and help spread the story of pozole, mezcal, and authentic Mexican culture.
This article is sponsored by Bowl of ‘Zole.