As the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, opened its third annual symposium, Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Wednesday the big news was the nearly completed facility.
Celebrity chefs and authors, food historians, purveyors, producers and restaurateurs toured the three-story building while tantalizing scents of dishes being prepared for the afternoon’s demonstrations wafted through the air, both inside and outside.
The CIA’s grand opening will be a public event this Saturday.
Shortly after the first announcers took the podium in the afternoon, more news emerged as the plans to open a fourth CIA campus — in Singapore — were announced.
Closer to home, CIA officials said that by the spring of next year CIA San Antonio will begin offering a two-year associate’s degree. That could be in April or May, said David Kellaway, managing director of the CIA, San Antonio.
The pilot program at the institute here has been a 30-week certificate course, or half of the associate’s degree.
Iliana de la Vega, Mexican/Latin cuisines specialist at the San Antonio campus, moderated the afternoon’s presentations.
Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, author and lecturer is an authority on the globalization of Mexican food. He discussed the influence of French cuisine, Creole and the indigenous foods of the country, as well as historical factors, as well as aspects of class and ethnicity on its evolution.
Rick Bayless presented the first culinary demonstration, talking about mole in general and putting together a relatively simple green version of the sauce.
An award-winning American chef, author and restaurateur, Bayless has explored Mexican food, its history and culinary intricacies for decades. He owns the acclaimed restaurants Frontera Grill, Topolobampo and XOCO in Chicago.
Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, one of Mexico City’s top chefs and owner of Cafe Azul y Oro, is also an author and authority on Mexican food. One of his books, which will soon be published in English, is “The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy.” He discussed the famous dish that is traditionally served on Mexican Independence Day, Chiles en Nogada. The dish is so special, he says, that one doesn’t make it for just a few people. It takes a long time to make — in fact, just peeling two pounds of walnuts for the sauce, to make a large recipe of this beautiful dish, takes more than eight hours.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico chef/restaurateur Francisco Javier Cárdenas. His Guanajuato-style Enchiladas and Red Pozole were two popular dishes at the tasting that followed the demonstrations.
Benedicta Alejo from Michoacan, Mexico, Lucero Soto and Federico López prepared their dishes in the downstairs demonstration kitchen, televised upstairs to the conference room.
Alejo ground roasted guajillo chile seeds in a molcajete to a smooth paste along with onion, tomatillo, cilantro and sea salt. She also employed the molcajete to make Mole de Queso, fried slices of queso fresco topped with a simple sauce of dry-roasted chiles, garlic and onion.
Soto demonstrated making sopes, little corn tortilla cakes with a center depression. The sopes are filled with beans, but then the fillings can vary. For the red, white and green colors of Mexican Independence Day (Diez y Seis de Septiembre), she used fried jamaica flowers, lightly sugared, fried queso cotija, avocado sauce and red Chile Capon.
Federico Lopez demonstrated Tatemado Short Ribs, Queretaro Style. These succulent ribs were braised with chiles and the Mexican drink pulque, wrapped in maguey leaves and covered with nopalitos (cactus paddles). The hours required to make the dish are well worth it, in the tenderness of the caramelized beef and the dark, chile-laden sauce.
This was just the beginning: More in-depth exploration of authentic Latin flavors are ahead as the symposium continues through Friday.