A local chef talks tradition, family, and magic.
Agave Uptown features fresh, seasonal veggies in its house-made verduras mole.
Photos courtesy of Agave Uptown
“Mole is not a sauce,” says Octavio Diaz, chef-owner of Oakland’s Agave Uptown. “Mole is family. Mole is tradition. Mole is a celebration. You’re celebrating something in your mouth.”
And what a celebration. With more than 20 hand-selected ingredients (including chiles and chocolate) that are roasted, toasted, and pureed together—over a five day period—to form a gorgeous paste, the Diaz family has perfected mole making to create a complex and delicious dining experience that stems from years of Oaxacan tradition.
There are seven official moles from the eight regions of Oaxaca, including verde, amarillo, and estofado. Each of the moles has it own unique flavor full of complex layers (Diaz believes his mole verde is the one to beat Bobby Flay’s), but the mole of all moles is negro—Diaz’s specialty.
Mole negro is so special that it’s become synonymous with cultural identity.
“Oaxaca has a very diverse culture and food,” says Diaz. “It’s one of the richest states in the world when it comes to spices, when it comes to food, and when it comes to people. Mole has so many elements and spices that it represents the state where it was born, and the mole negro has the same complexity and layers of spice as the state.”
While there may be seven official moles—and every Oaxacan family’s subsequent version of the dish—there is only one mole negro in Diaz’s mind: his mother’s.
“Mole is our [family’s] black gold. My mother learned from both my grandmas, and it’s a tradition passed down from generation to generation,” says Diaz. “My mom is not a [classically trained] chef, but she’s not just a cook. She’s a real chef
And although the traditions surrounding family and mole are in decline due to a more fast-paced, contemporary lifestyle in Oaxaca, Diaz says the art of mole is still going strong in his family: “We take so much pride in crafting it because it’s what keeps our family together.”
Just like family, mole is a commitment, “a celebration, and a way we honor Mom and Dad,” says Diaz. Every time a new batch is made and the flavors are extracted, “it’s magic in itself, and I’m proud of it. Every time you eat it, it’s special. It’s majestic mole.” .