Tag Archive | "Culinary Institute of America"

CIA Introduces a New Latin Cuisine Festival Oct. 1-3

The Culinary Institute of America will celebrate Latin cuisine, culture, and culinary education by hosting Arriba el Norte, a three-day festival from Thursday, Oct. 1, to Saturday, Oct. 3. The inaugural summit will incorporate a professional conference, a festival for food enthusiasts, and chef presentations for high school students.

arriba“We have selected amazing chefs who are experts in the cuisine of El Norte, the United States and Mexican border,” said Fernando Salazar, managing director of the CIA’s San Antonio campus. “This will be an exciting event not to be missed that will showcase the great gastronomy of this region.”

The highlight of the festival will be a full-day event for food enthusiasts in the greater San Antonio community on Saturday, Oct. 3. The event will feature everything from hands-on cooking classes to a special dinner featuring five guest chefs at Nao. The culinary workshops with CIA faculty include “Entertaining with Antojitos” with chef Michael Katz, “Texas BBQ” with chef Brannon Soileau, and “Desserts of El Norte” with chef Melissa Fritz. 

Chef demonstrations by CIA alumni during the day include “From Jerky to Charcuterie” with Steve McHugh of Cured and “From El Mercado to The Restaurant” with Diego Galicia of Mixtli Progressive Mexican Culinaria. Food and beverage tastings will highlight “The Wines of Mexico” with Vinos L.A. Cetto and “Botanero – Pairing Tequila & Small Plates” with chefs German Gonzalez and Juan Ramón Cárdenas. Tickets for the culinary demonstrations and food and beverage tasting classes range in price from $25 to $150. 

Additionally, chef Hinnerk von Bargen, a CIA professor and author of “Street Foods,” will host a “Street Foods of El Norte” demonstration during the Pearl Farmers Market, with food available for purchase at the CIA’s outdoor kitchen.

The festival day will culminate in a dinner at Nao celebrating five years of the CIA at its expanded San Antonio campus with a theme of “Five Years, Five Chefs, Five Courses.” The featured chefs include Juan Ramón Cárdenas of El Meson Principal and Don Artemio in Saltillo, Coahuila; Angel Garcia of El Porvenir in Tampico, Mexico; Javier Plascencia of Misión 19 and Finca Altozano in Baja California; Alfredo Villanueva of Romero y Azahar in Monterrey, Mexico; and Alain Dubernard, department chair of baking and pastry arts at CIA San Antonio. Tickets are on sale now for $99 and include paired beverages and five courses from these acclaimed chefs. 

Additionally, Arriba el Norte will invite local high school students to experience culinary demonstrations and tastings from CIA-instructors on subjects ranging from Texas Cuisine to Native Fruits in Modern Bakery, along with a Live Fire lunch on Thursday, Oct. 1.

The professional conference for foodservice professionals on Friday, October 2 will feature cooking demonstrations and ingredient tastings from CIA trained chefs and faculty featuring Latin cuisine, including “Bracero – From Traditional to Modernity” and “The Modern Interpretation of the Classic Cabrito;” breakout sessions; a panel discussion titled “The Cuisine of El Norte: What’s Next?” moderated by CIA Director of Latin Studies, Chef Sergio Remolina; and lunch at Nao featuring “The Many Faces of Rice.”

For more information about Arriba El Norte and to purchase tickets for hands-on cooking classes, chef demos and tastings, food and beverage tastings, and the “Five Years, Five Chefs, Five Courses” dinner, visit

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Nao Heads for the Amazon

The flavors of the Amazon are being featured at Nao.

The flavors of the Amazon are being featured at Nao.

Take a culinary adventure down the Amazon River. Nao, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at the Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, is featuring the flavors of the Amazon from Dec. 2 to Jan. 26.

“The vast region known as the Amazon encompasses 40 percent of South America,” a release from the school says. “Its jungle and unique treasures are integral to the health of our planet. Also found there are the flavors and diverse culinary traditions that make Amazonian food so exciting. From chayote to açai and from papaya to Brazil nuts, our tribute to the flavors of the Amazon awaits you at Nao!”

Featured dishes include Xuxu Salad, which is made with chayote; Moqueca di Peixe, a seafood stew; and Creme de Papay con Açai, a fruit pudding.

For reservations or more information, call 210-554-6484.


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This Year’s Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Moves into the Pearl’s Restaurants

The seventh annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Leadership Symposium is returning to the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus Oct. 1-3, and for the first time, the festival will have events that are open to the public.

Roberto Santibanez at Latin Flavors, American Kitchens.

Roberto Santibanez at Latin Flavors, American Kitchens.

With seven successful years of bringing the world’s best Latin cuisine specialists to the Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference, Pearl and the San Antonio campus of The Culinary Institute of America are excited to present a unique opportunity to San Antonio’s diners. Experience a rare collaboration between our talented Pearl chefs and the most renown chefs from Mexico, Peru and Spain,” said Pearl Culinary Director Shelley Grieshaber. “The culinary magic created during our Latin takeover of Pearl on Oct. 2 and 3 will shine a light on some of the most creative culinary minds across several countries and continents. Don’t miss this opportunity to see what we cook up.”

On Thursday, Oct. 2, Nao will feature a special dinner with chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, one of Peru’s most prominent and influential chefs and member of the CIA’s Latin Cuisines Advisory Council. The five-course guest chef menu will feature Amazonian dishes, including camarones en textura de yuca and escolar in adobo with sweet potatoes. The wine reception begins at 6 p.m. and dinner starts at 6:45 p.m. The five-course dinner with wine pairings is $100 per person, plus tax with service charge, and reservations can be made by emailing

On Friday, Oct. 3, renowned guest chefs attending the seminar will pair up with Pearl chefs for a Latin takeover featuring:

Jesse Perez, Arcade Midtown Kitchen:

Globally recognized chef Mark Miller joins Perez at Arcade Midtown Kitchen and will prepare some of his favorite dishes from his Red Sage and Coyote Café restaurants that will be offered as à la carte specials along with Arcade’s regular dinner menu. Dinner is available 5:30-10 p.m. and reservations can be made online at by calling 210-369-9664. As the à la carte items are limited, guests are encouraged to arrive early to ensure that they can experience the special menu.

Jeff White, Boiler House:

Chef Johnny Hernandez is opening Casa Hernan for one of the dinners.

Chef Johnny Hernandez is opening Casa Hernan for one of the dinners.

Boiler House executive chef White will team up with chef Roberto Santibañez for a three-course dinner including fluke tiradito for the appetizer and grilled adobo marinated skirt steak with smoky tomato salsa, refried beans, zucchini and corn with cream with warm tortillas for the main course. Santibañez, whose cookbooks have been consistently praised by The New York Times and Food & Wine, is the chef and owner of Fonda in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The three-course prix fixe dinner is $65 per person. Wine pairing is available for an additional fee, and reservations can be made through OpenTable or by calling 210-354-4644; be sure to request the Latin chef dinner at the time of making the reservation.

Tim Rattray, The Granary:

Together with Roberto Ruiz, owner and chef of the renowned PuntoMX in Spain, Rattray has created a four-course guest chef menu that will feature dishes such as red tuna tostadas and skirt steak barbacoa. The dinner, available from 6 to 10 p.m., is $50 per person with beverages and wine pairings offered for an additional fee. Reservations can be booked online at

A host of Latin flavors and dishes await during the public dinners Oct. 2-3 at the Pearl.

A host of Latin flavors and dishes await during the public dinners Oct. 2-3 at the Pearl.

Johnny Hernandez, La Gloria/ Casa Hernan:

La Gloria’s Johnny Hernandez will host chef Miguel Angel Guerrero at his restaurant Casa Hernan, 411 E. Cavallos. Together, they have curated a four-course dinner that will take guests on a culinary adventure through Latin America. Menu items, showcasing the cuisine of Baja, include octopus tentacle wrapped in russet potato noodle with prosciutto and jalapeño aioli as well as double lamb chops in pomegranate sauce with grilled kale. Cocktails will begin at 7 p.m. with dinner to follow. The four-course dinner, with wines and cocktails, is $85 per person, and reservations can be made by calling 210-226-3670.

Andrew Weissman, Sandbar:

Named “Best New Chef” by Travel + Leisure in 2011, Diego Hernández-Baquedano and Weissman will offer dishes like lobster confit, served with heirloom bean sauce, salsa Mexicana, and tortillas as à la carte specials along with Sandbar’s regular menu that evening. Dinner hours are 5:30-10 p.m., and reservations can be made by calling 210-212-2221. As the à la carte items are limited, guests are encouraged to arrive early to ensure that they can experience the special menu.

For more information on Latin Flavors, American Kitchens, visit For more information on the guest chef dinners at Pearl, visit

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‘Do It Before It’s Too Late,’ McHugh Tells CIA Grads

Steven McHugh, who graduated from The Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park, N.Y., campus in 1997, provided advice and encouragement to the college’s newest alumni on July 3. McHugh delivered the commencement address at the CIA’s San Antonio campus at the Pearl Brewery complex, which is also home to Cured, his new restaurant, which opened in late 2013.

Steven McHugh addresses the CIA graduation.

Steven McHugh addresses the CIA graduation.

“You have shown you are committed,” McHugh told recipients of associate degrees in culinary arts. “What’s important is to take what you have learned and build on it.”

Cured is a sustainable, seasonal restaurant chosen by San Antonio Current as Best New Restaurant for 2014 and one of Eater National’s Restaurants to Watch.

For 10 years, McHugh worked for fellow CIA alumnus John Besh, ’92, first in New Orleans, then at Besh’s first San Antonio restaurant, before setting out on his own. He continues to “pay it forward” by hiring many young CIA graduates at Cured.

The Walworth, Wisconsin, native advised the graduating class to get involved in the community, as he and Besh did following Hurricane Katrina, serving hundreds of meals to relief workers in New Orleans. His final piece of advice was to “do it before it’s too late.”

McHugh was just 34 when he was diagnosed with lymphoma four years ago. After completing chemotherapy, he said it was time to realize his dream of opening his own restaurant.

In fact, Cured refers to both McHugh’s triumph over cancer and the house-made meats served at the restaurant.

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Join Nao for Some Savory New Culinary Adventures

Plenty is happening these days at Nao, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant on the San Antonio campus.

Nao's Venezuelan Siete Potencias, or Seven Powers

Nao’s Venezuelan Siete Potencias, or Seven Powers

The restaurant at 312 Pearl Parkway is showcasing the foods of Venezuela as its latest culinary adventure. Plus, it’s hosting a dinner with a chef who graduated from the school and has his own cookbook out.

The series has drawn a large following from the local community, chef Geronimo Lopez said, with about 40 percent of all dinners ordered being the culinary special.

Venezuela holds a special connection for Lopez because that is his homeland. “Venezuela is a large country and a rich melting pot,” he said. “Venezuela’s cuisine draws from the Caribbean, the Andes and the Amazon. These make up the colors and flavors that invite you to savor life.”

He’s been pleased to be able to find many of the ingredients at local supermarkets as well as the international markets that serve the city’s increasingly diverse population. It’s far different from previous years, such as when he lived in Paris, and he had to make seemingly endless substitutes whenever he tried to make a Venezuelan dish.

Venezuelan cuisine was heavily influenced by Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French settlers as well as African and Native American traditions. It is a diet rich in seafood with plantains, yucca and beans as well as chicken and beef.

Geronimo Lopez

Geronimo Lopez

The dishes on his menu include the Caracas-style Chicken Polvorosa, a chicken pot pie with sweet and spicy flavors; Red Snapper Paraguito Frito, in which the crispy fish is served with plantain tostones and a touch of coleslaw; and Butterflied Sirloin Santa Barbara with queso fresco, diced avocado and yuca fries. Siete Potencias, or Seven Powers, Seafood Cocktail features shrimp, conch, mussels and clams as well as the sweet pepper aji dulce, onion, tomato and crisp plantain chips.

Dessert is Bienmesabe, a Venezuelan type of tres leche made with an airy coconut genoise, pastry cream, and meringue brûlée.

Lopez is happy to have found his favorite Venezuelan rum, Diplomatico, which has been barrel-aged for 10 years, much like a scotch, he said. Nao’s beverage director, Tim Bryand, has used the tea-colored liquor in a cocktail he created called Rio Caribe, which also features pineapple, lime, honey and Angosturra Bitters.

A special three-course menu featuring these dishes is available for $42 until July 7.

Chef Adan Medrano, author, book-signing

On June 19, Nao and the Twig Book Shop will be co-hosting a dinner featuring chef Adán Medrano, a graduate of the San Antonio CIA and author of the new cookbook, “Truly Texas Mexican.” The evening will include a book-signing and reception as well as a three-course dinner featuring dishes from the book.

A CIA student at work at Nao.

A CIA student at work at Nao.

“I am quite enthused about partnering with Chef Geronimo Lopez and the team at Nao because they understand the international taste dimensions of cuisines of the Americas,”  Medrano said. “I’m looking forward to meeting each of the guests and sharing perspectives on their dining experience. I am so proud to collaborate with the progressive, cutting edge kitchen of Nao as Chef Lopez is a brilliant chef who takes deliciousness to new levels.”

The book signing and reception will be in the Nao lounge from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. with wine and passed hors d’oeuvres, including Smoked Trout with Chipotle-Yerbaniz Mayonnaise; Albóndigas de Chile Ancho; and Flor de Calabaza Rellena con Frijol y Chorizo.

The dinner begins at 6:45 p.m. with a duo of mini-gorditas featuring Nopalitos con Camarón and Frijoles Refritos with Queso Fresco. The meal will continue with Chile Relleno Lampreado served with Arroz con Cilantro. Dessert is a Watermelon Ice with Blueberries served with Hojarascas.

“Adán captures the essence of Mexican influence and heritage, and we are excited to have him take us on a journey to the deep Mexican roots of Texas,” Lopez said.

Tickets are priced at $80 per person and include a signed copy of “Truly Texas Mexican,” the recepion and the three-course dinner. All dinner proceeds go to the not-for-profit CIA. For reservations, call 210-554-6484.

Those who deep-dive into behind-the-scenes restaurant news may have seen that the CIA is advertising for a faculty member to oversee the restaurant. Does that mean Lopez is leaving? No, he said, explaining that managing the restaurant is done a rotational basis, so he will still be a part of the San Antonio campus, but he will have other duties.


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$10K in Scholarships Available for Women Seeking Culinary Careers

Female chef croppedIf you are a woman who is interested in learning to be a pastry chef, organic farmer, culinary educator, wine sommelier or master chef, the San Antonio chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI) would like to help you out.

LDEI San Antonio is now accepting scholarship applications for post-high school studies in the 2014-2015 school year. This year, the San Antonio chapter is awarding $10,000 in scholarships.

The financial program is designed to assist San Antonio area women who are pursuing an education in the food/culinary arts, wine, hospitality and agriculture industries.

Past scholarships have been awarded to women attending the University of The Incarnate Word, St. Philip’s College, Johnson & Wales University, The Culinary Institute of America, and other educational institutions.

“As a woman who has dedicated her professional life to restaurants, fine cuisine and hospitality, it is especially meaningful to help other women enter this field by chairing the committee selecting the scholarship recipients,” says scholarship chairwoman Diana Barrios Trevino.

To be eligible for the award, applicants must demonstrate financial need, attend an accredited institution, and currently maintain a cumulative 3.0 grade point grade average. The scholarships are limited to women who are current residents of San Antonio, Bexar County and its contiguous counties.

Application forms are available online at the San Antonio chapter site:  Forms are also available at most financial aid offices at area schools, or can be requested from Trevino at

Completed applications must be postmarked no later than April 15, 2014 and addressed to Les Dames d’Escoffier, c/o Diane Thomas, P.O. Box 17812, San Antonio, Texas 78217.

Successful scholarship recipients will be notified no later than May 31, 2014; funds will be sent directly to the scholarship winner’s educational institution no later than September 1, 2014.

LDEI is a non-profit international association of women with successful careers in food, wine, hospitality and agriculture. The group is dedicated to assisting others through scholarships, education, advocacy and philanthropy.

For more information about the scholarship program of the San Antonio chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International,  please contact Trevino at or 210-771-7011.

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So, If the Ceviche Is Made in a Blender, Is It Authentic?

The chef is from Peru, land of ceviche. But his background is also Japanese. And he uses a Vitamix to make his ceviche, not to mention ingredients that go beyond the usual lime-seafood-chile mix.  So, is the food he’s preparing authentic?

Diego Oka is a culinary ambassador of Pervian cuisine.

Diego Oka is a culinary ambassador of Peruvian cuisine.

The question of authenticity came up time and again Thursday during the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus. The annual get-together, which draws celebrity and international chefs, leaders in the food industry across America and food writers, dealt with whether it was authentic to make tacos using truffles, a mole with hazelnuts, a flan that mixed the corn fungus huitlacoche and leeks or mango mojito shrimp with a kale topping?

The issue went beyond one of mere fusion to the issue of whether these creations were authentic representations of the countries they’re associated with.

The answers varied from speaker to speaker, as Southwestern food pioneer and educator Mark Miller explained in a wrap-up of the day. For some, authenticity means employing the greatest simplicity in preparation. Others see it as meaning a lack of industrialization in the food; little is processed, everything is fresh.

For celebrity chef Rick Bayless of Chicago, the definition of authenticity has evolved over time. Early in his career, it meant a look back at the traditions that formed the basis of his cooking. Then he learned that his food should “not look backwards only, but take the wisdom of the past” and allow it to evolve into cuisine that his customers want. Today, he believes that authenticity is simply food that rings true to him.

Rick Bayless stresses his own brand of authenticity.

Rick Bayless stresses his own brand of authenticity.

But he readily admits that his choices are built on his foundation. Too many of today’s younger chefs don’t want to pay attention to the traditions or stories of where food comes from, said Rick Lopez, a San Antonio native who’s now head chef at Austin’s La Condesa, even though he appeared to be no older than the chefs he spoke of. “Tradition is great,” he said. “It’s where we learn.”

That brings us back to Diego Oka, the Peruvian chef with a Japanese background. “In Peru, we eat more salty, more spicy,” he said. So, both had to be cut down for sweet-loving American diners. To do that, he boils his aji amarillos, the spicy chiles at the heart of Peruvian cuisine, three times to cut down on the heat.

But his Cebiche Cremoso would work perfectly for American tastes, especially those in a hotter climate such as San Antonio’s. “When you think of ceviche, you think of the beach and the sun,” he said.

He seems to have captured that in the sun-colored sauce that’s spread over the dish that also features scallops. Yes, lime juice is used, including in a traditional leche de tigre, which Oka said was the “base of all ceviches.”

People don’t know much about Peru, Oka said, so staying true to the heart of the ceviche is important.

“We show our culture through our food,” he said.

Cebiche Cremoso

Leche de tigre:
3 cups lime juice
1 cup fumet or light fish stock
1/2 rib celery
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup ice
1 cup raw fish, such as halibut
1/4 red onion
Salt, to taste

Creamy scallops leche:
5 scallops
4 tablespoons aji amarillo paste (see note)
4 tablespoons aji rocoto paste
5 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup iceLeche de tigre (recipe above)

Chalaca sauce:
1 red onion, diced small
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced small
1/2 habanero, seeded and deveined
1/4 cancha corn (Peruvian corn nuts)
1/4 cup choclo (Peruvian corn), boiled
1 tablespoon green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice

12 Alaskan scallops
Micro cilantro, for garnish

Cebiche Cremoso

Cebiche Cremoso

For the leche de tigre: In a restaurant-style blender, such as a Vitamix, put the lime juice, fumet, celery, habanero, garlic, fish and ice; blend it for 10 seconds. At the end, add the red onion and cilantro (if we put it at the beginning, it will turn the leche de tigre muddy, which is not desired), and the salt, to taste. Then strain and keep it cool.

For the creamy scallops leche: Put the scallops and ice in a blender on medium speed, the add the canola oil slowly; once it has a thick texture, add the aji amarillo and the rocoto paste. Season with salt and lime juice. Then add slow the leche de tigre to the mix.

For the chalaca sauce: In a bowl, mix the red onion, tomato, habanero, cancha, choclo, green onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt.

To serve: In a serving bowl, place the scallops and top with the creamy scallops leche. Mix them and serve 2 or 3 pieces in a cold plate. Top with the chalaca sauce and finish with microgreens.

Note: Aji amarillo paste and other South American ingredients can be found at Las Americas Latin Market, 6623 San Pedro Ave., if you can’t find them at specialty supermarkets such as Central Market or Whole Foods.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Diego Oka/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens



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NAO Celebrates Mexican Independence Day

New patio chairs at NAO.

New patio chairs at NAO.

NAO, the New World restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus, is celebrating Dies y Seis de Septiembre with a special three-course menu that you can sample Saturday and Monday.

Red Brick Mole with Beef Tenderloin

Red Brick Mole with Beef Tenderloin

The Mexican Independence menu begins with Tuna Brûlée with Mole Negro and jícama slaw, followed by a Red Pozole of Shrimp and Pressed Pork Belly with a traditional hominy and guajillo broth, onion, serrano, cabbage, radish, cilantro, oregano and tostadas. The meal closes out with Cazual de Chocolate y Caramel with whipped cream and a sweet corn cokie. The price of the meal is $35 a person.

A special cocktail, the Paloma, features tequila, lime and grapefruit and is offered for $9 apiece.

From now through Oct. 23, NAO will also offer special Oaxacan dishes developed with celebriy chef Susan Trilling. You can try items such as Ceviche Costeno with shrimp in a lightly spiced coconut marinade and Red Brick Mole with Beef Tenderloin. A special Oaxacan tasting menu featuring spiced nuts; a choice of ceviche or Caldo de Piedra, Shrimp Stone Soup; a choice between the beef tenderloin or Herbal Mole Verde with Chicken; and Oaxacan chocolate torte is priced at $39.

NAO is a 312 Pearl Parkway in the Pearl Brewery complex. For reservations, call (210) 554-6484.

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Fine Swine, Cold Beer and a Prelude of Summer in One Event

Members of the the Art Institute of San Antonio prepare a paella for guests of the second Fine Swine Cook-off.

Members of the the Art Institute of San Antonio prepare a paella for guests of the second Fine Swine Cook-off.

FLORESVILLE — The temperatures hit new heights for the year Sunday and the sun was somewhat unforgiving at the South Texas Heritage Pork farm as three culinary schools prepared pigs for the second annual Fine Swine Cook-Off and Flavor Fest.

Guests line up for lettuce cups filled with pork and rice.

Guests line up for lettuce cups filled with pork and rice.

But withstanding the heat of the kitchen — even an outdoor kitchen — is something all chefs-in-training learn how to handle, so there were few grumbles, though most welcomed the shade of their tents while they cooked away.

The teams from the Art Institute of San Antonio, the Culinary Institute of America and the San Antonio Food Bank were all trying to be the most creative with every last bit of meat found on the pig. So, the ear might be fried and used as a garnish on a salad. Or the heart could be turned into jerky (see recipe below). One group even bottled its own … mmm … Bacon Soda.

These dishes were all for the judges. Meanwhile, the rest of the guests treated themselves to an assortment of treats available in another competition. A group of chefs from Corpus Christi offered a seafood sampling that included an oyster on the half shell with a lemon grass and horseradish gelée, shrimp headcheese, shrimp shell stock with lemon foam and shrimp sausage. Where Y’at’s Pieter Sypesteyn served crispy pork boudin balls and steaming hot bowls of goat and hominy gumbo, while Brandon McKelvey of Say.She.Ate fried chicken in duck fat. James Canter, who won last week’s Paella Challenge, showcased quail in an oyster kimchee sauce with watermelon radish.

Local beers from Ranger Creek, Alamo, Guadalupe and Saint Arnold were on tap, while Pedernales Cellars wines were available.

Cutting up every bit of pork flavor.

Cutting up every bit of pork flavor.

In the end, the judges’ panel gave top pork prize to the Art Institute while their favorite of the open contest from the rest of the chefs on hand went to the team from the Corpus Christi area, which included Paul Morales, Audie Morris and David Graham. (This was a second win for Morales, who was part of the award-winning pork team from last year, also the Art Institute.) The people’s choice award went to the team from the Texas Cooks Co-op. (The judges’ panel included celebrity chef John Besh as well as local chefs Steven McHugh, Michael Sohocki, David Gilbert and John Russ among others.)

But the real winners were those who got to sample these local foods, whether it was the pork at center stage, the goat, the chicken or the quail. All of it came from Texas, if not specifically from the region south of San Antonio where South Texas Heritage is located. It had to be prepared on site, but it also had to be humanely raised, which also means healthier for those eating the food.

Pig Heart Jerky

Brian West of the CIA bastes a fresh ham.

Brian West of the CIA bastes a fresh ham.

1 pig heart
3 1/2 ounces soy sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red chile flakes6 ounces crushed black peppercorns or red chile flakes (optional)

Pat dry the heart and remove all fat and veins from the heart. Cut into thin slices, approximately 1/4 inch thick. Mix soy sauce, liquid smoke, granulated garlic, Worcestershire sauce, granulated onion, 1 teaspoon black pepper and 1 teaspoon red chile flakes together in a zip-lock bag. Add the heart slices and marinate for 24 hours. Flip the bag over every 5 hours or so to get even distribution of the marinade.

Remove the heart slices from the marinade and pat extremely dry. If you want a more peppered jerky, roll the slices in crush black peppercorns or red chile pepper flakes.

Lay out the pieces in an even layer on a food dehydrator. The slices are done when they shrunken 30 percent to 40 percent and are dry but pliable.

From the Art Institute of San Antonio


A member of the Art Institute's team prepares to serve the judges.

A member of the Art Institute’s team prepares to serve the judges.

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Ace’s High: Pork Belly with Mole Pipian Makes Chef Almost Famous

Acenette “Ace” Gonzalez is Almost Famous.

Ace Gonzalez is the winner of the national S. Pellegino Almost Famous Chef Competition sponsored by San Pellegrino.

Ace Gonzalez is the winner of the national S. Pellegino Almost Famous Chef Competition sponsored by San Pellegrino.

That’s because the chef in training at the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America recently won the national S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition in Napa, Calif.

Winning the event was “so life changing,” said Gonzalez, who received $3,000 for her efforts. Most of the money is going toward the cost of her education, but she’s also got her eye on a new set of knives from either Shun Cutlery or Global Knives.

Gonzalez advanced to the finals after winning the South Central Regional Competition, which was held in Houston this year. In California, she faced the winners of the nine other regional competitions that make up the annual contest. In the end, she was crowned victorious because of two dishes she made. One was her signature dish, Pork Belly with Mole Pipian (recipe follows), and the other was for a caldo de mariscos that came out of a mystery basket competition.

Both of Gonzalez’s winning dishes were inspired by the food she grew up eating. Though she is from Dallas, her parents are from Mexico City, and the caldo was a taste of home with its chipotle, tomatoes, onions and garlic as well as the four mystery box ingredients, mussels, clams, cod and shrimp.

Ace Gonzalez cooks during the Almost Famous competition in Houston.

Ace Gonzalez cooks during the Almost Famous competition in Houston.

Even though the caldo from her childhood provided inspiration, it didn’t make the competition any less intense.

“They were all great cooks,” she said of the other nine cooks. “It was just awesome having the chance to compete with them.”

Now that the contest is over, Gonzalez is focusing on finishing her associate’s degree at the CIA. “I graduate in April,” she said. “Then I think I’ll work for a year or so.”

Becoming the latest Almost Famous Chef should help Gonzalez find a good position after she graduates. Winning “means a lot,” she said. “It gets my name out there.”

Her mentor in the Houston competition, chef Philip Speer of Uchi Houston, said that taking the top spot is “something that can take you to another level in your career.”

Ace Gonzalez's Pork Belly with Mole Pipian

Ace Gonzalez’ Pork Belly with Mole Pipian

Pork Belly with Mole Pipian

This recipe involves several parts, each of which appears separately below. At the end are the instructions of how to plate the dish.

Huitlacoche Polenta Fries

10 cups pork stock
3 cups polenta
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 pound cojita cheese
20 ounces huitlacoche
Oil for frying

Bring pork stock to a simmer; add in polenta.

Season with salt and pepper. In a Robo Coupe food processor, process cheese until it’s fine.

Cook polenta until it’s done. Add in huitlacoche and cheese until melted in.

Cool in a small sheet pan that has been covered in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.

Cut polenta in 1 inch by 2 1/2 inch sticks. Deep fry until crispy. Drain. Reserve until assembling.

Pickled Onions, Watermelon Radishes and Raw Chayote

5 cups white vinegar
2 cups honey
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
4 red onions
15 watermelon radishes
8 chayote
2 cups micro cilantro

Place vinegar in pot, add honey and spices. Bring to a boil.

Julienne onions and thinly slice radishes on mandolin.

Place onions and radishes in vacuum-seal bag and pour hot vinegar solution into bag ¼ full and vacuum seal the bag. Let compressed radishes and onions sit in solution for 30 to 45 minutes.

On mandolin, slice chayote in thin strips.

At service, add chayote strips to the solution with the onion and radishes.

Pork Belly

7 pounds pork belly
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
8 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
7 cloves garlic, peeled
3 ounces sesame seeds
4 ounces peanuts, skinned
9 ounces pumpkin seeds
13 ounces tomatillos
2 medium white onions
7 jalapeños
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
14 green romaine lettuce leaves
4 hoja santa leaves
1 cup brown lard
3 quarts pork stock
Cumin powder, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut pork belly into 2 1/2-ounce cubes.

In a Vitamix or powerful blender, mix salt, pepper and cumin and peeled garlic cloves. Rub over pork belly and bake for 1 hour with foil on top and a little water on the bottom.

Take out of oven and when ready to serve, deep fry until crispy.

Toast sesame seeds until golden; transfer into a bowl. Repeat that process with peanuts and pumpkin seeds.

On a comal, roast onion, jalapeño, and unpeeled garlic cloves. Set aside.

Boil tomatillos in water until they change color.

In Vitamix, mix onion, jalapeño, garlic, tomatillos, lettuce, and hoja santa until smooth. Fry in brown lard, set aside.

In Vitamix, mix all the nuts and seeds until smooth. Add pork stock as needed.

Combine the two purées together and thin out with pork stock. Simmer for 30 minutes.

To serve: On a wooden plate, make a straight line with mole. Place 3 polenta fries along the mole. Place 3 pork belly pieces next to the polenta. Add pickled onions on top of pork belly and spread 5 radish slices along the plate. Stand the chayote pieces along the pork belly and garnish with micro cilantro.

From Acenette Gonzalez


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