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Paella and Prizes Fill a Sunday at the Pearl


Students from Memorial High School accept the first place award for their paella.

Students from Memorial High School accept the first place award for their paella.

The storm clouds rolled past during the middle of the night, leaving Sunday with a healthy glow of light and a steady breeze for more than 1,000 to enjoy the 4th annual Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery.

Brian West (right) of the Culinary Institute of America makes paella.

Brian West (right) of the Culinary Institute of America makes paella.

The annual cook-off, created by chef Johnny Hernandez as a fundraiser for culinary scholarships, brought an array of chefs from across town as well as around the country and Mexico to participate.

The lineup included a number of long-time participants, such as Rene Fernandez of Azuca, Zach Lutton of Zedric’s and Jason and Jake Dady, while newcomers, including Mark Bliss of Bliss and Angie Bridges of Copa Wine Bar, dished up their best. Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen served up a seafood paella with fideo as the base, and Susana Trilling went with a traditional take that featured bright amounts of saffron and garlic in the base. Brian West and a team from the Culinary Institute of America weren’t in competition but they did serve up six different pans of paella to the hungry crowds.

Serving up Susana Trilling's paella.

Serving up Susana Trilling’s paella.

A fairly constant breeze made it hard for some of the chefs to keep their burners working steadily. Some used baking sheets to prevent the wind from extinguishing their burners. Others found that the fire would burn so hot that it had to be turned off to prevent the paella from burning.

The crowds didn’t seem to mind, as they waited patiently for dishes from Jeff White of Boiler House Texas Grill, Jeffrey Balfour of Citrus and Steven McHugh. One of the visiting chefs, Jehangir Mehta, known from his appearances on “Iron Chef,” looked out over the huge get-together and marveled at how well-run and fun the day turned out to be.

In the end, Hernandez announced the winners of this year’s high school division, which went to Memorial High School, followed by John Jay High School and Sam Houston. The winners earned a trip to New York, where they’ll visit the CIA’s main campus in Hyde Park and be able to shadow chefs in action.

The crowd listens to the winners being announced.

The crowd listens to the winners being announced.

This year’s judging was slightly different in that three top awards were handed out.

Clint Connaway of Max’s Wine Dive walked off with the people’s choice award, while Flor Vergara of Hernandez’s True Flavors took home the award for best contemporary paella.

The award for best classical paella went to James Canter, who won the top honor last year as well. Canter also was in charge of making the paella for Ben Ford’s team, which won the top award during the first Paella Challenge.

Canter, who is now chef at the Victoria Country Club, was in tears when he took the stage with his team to accept.

Given his track record, you can expect Canter to return for the fifth Paella Challenge next March.

The winners: Flor Vergara (right), host Johnny Hernandez, Clint Connaway and James Canter.

The winners: Flor Vergara (left), host Johnny Hernandez, Clint Connaway and James Canter.

 

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Dishing Up Paella: Coming Soon to Pearl


The 4th Annual Corona Paella Challenge hosted by La Gloria’s chef/owner, Johnny Hernandez, returns to Pearl Sunday, March 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m..  Chefs from San Antonio, across the country and Mexico will be cooking.

“We are excited to host the Paella Challenge again this year and invite everyone to come and join us in this celebration,” said Elizabeth Fauerso, chief marketing officer at Pearl. “This event has become a tradition in San Antonio, bringing chefs and the community together, and we are thrilled to be doing it again this year.”

paella snailsGoing into its fourth year, the Paella Challenge showcases the delicious food and wine of Spain and offers traditional sangria and a variety of fabulous craft and imported beers. The event continues to present its attendees with an afternoon filled with live entertainment and fun for the whole family.

Proceeds from the event will benefit The Culinary Institute of America San Antonio and The Educational Foundation of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

This year’s celebrity chef will be Jehangir Mehta, who appeared on The Next Iron Chef: Redemption.

Joining him in competition are Jesse Perez (Arcade Midtown Kitchen), Jeff White (The Boiler House), Steven McHugh, Tim McCarty (Sodexo), Jhojans Priego Zarat (Mariscos Villa Rica), Susana Trilling (cookbook author and Seasons of My Heart Cooking School chef instructor), Zach Lutton (Zedrics), John Herdman(Las Ramblas), David Wirebaugh (Hyatt Regency), Jeff Balfour (Citrus), Jason Dady (Tre Trattoria).

Also entering are Craig Bianco (The RK Group), Peter Holt (Lupe Tortilla), Mark Bliss (Bliss), Clint Connaway (MAX’s Wine Dive), James Canter, Michael Mata(Wyndham), Alejandro Rodriguez (Catalan Cuisine Catering), and Flor Vergara (True Flavors).

Tickets to the event are $50 pre-sale. Admission for individuals under 21 years of age is $25.  Tickets can be purchased here. and the day-of at Pearl.

paella traditional

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NAO Expands Its Hours and Its Culinary Offerings


nao signNAO, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at the Pearl Brewery, has expanded its hours.

Lunch is now being offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The menu is less formal than the dinner menu, chef Geronomio Lopez promises. One offering is the piled high Domenican burger, which marries Texas’ love of burgers with the New World flavors the restaurant is known for. These lunches are in addition to the Thursday five-course lunches that include cooking demonstrations.

And the restaurant at 312 Pearl Parkway is now open after hours on Saturday, from 10 p.m. to 1 or 1:30 a.m. The late hours are largely a SIN, or service industry night, says Lopez, referring to a time that waitstaff at other restaurants can enjoy going out themselves after their shifts have ended.

Lopez and his sous chef Zach Garza have planned a rotating menu of dishes such as Fire-Roasted Brussels, Chili and Waffles, Turkey King Ranch Casserole and that Burger, while the bartenders are coming up with some late-night specials. The intriguing Chili and Waffles dish features a chili that takes 24 hours to make. Lopez describes it as completely unique, with a touch of Mexican mole as well as Texas chili mixed in. It’s served over a sweet corn waffle and topped with a fried egg before serving.

“It’s street foods American style,” he says. Or think of it as “a food truck that doesn’t move.”

Reservations are not accepted for either the new lunches or for the late-night hours.

For more information, click here or call (210) 554-6484.

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Get Ready for a New World Flavors Tour at NAO


Geronimo Lopez

NAO, the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at the Pearl Brewery, 312 Pearl Parkway, is offering a series of lunches focusing on the flavors of the New World.

Each includes a cooking demonstration led by the restaurant’s executive chef, Geronimo Lopez.

The series begins Jan. 17 and ends Feb. 7. The lunch classes will only be offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays and will include five courses as well as wine, tax and tip for $100 a person.

The schedule is as follows:

Jan. 17 — An Insider’s Tour of the True Mexican Kitchen

Jan. 23-24 — Argentine Treasures

Jan. 30-31 — Peru: From the Pacific to the Andes

Feb. 6-7 — Brazilian Cuisine: The Cutting Edge.

The lunches begin with a reception at 11:30 a.m., followed by the meal from noon to 1:30 p.m. Only 20 guests will be seated for each special lunch, so prepaid reservations are necessary. Call (210) 554-6484.

 

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2012 Was a Year of Eating Well


The Pearl has become a food lover’s center for festivals as well as restaurants.

Bliss is aptly named.

As we approach the end of 2012, it’s time to look back on the many great flavors that we sampled. The list is lengthy, thanks to a decided upturn in culinary offerings across the city, both on the dining scene and for the food lover in general.

One of the biggest food stories of the year was the continued growth of the Pearl Brewery, which saw the opening of three praise-worthy eateries and a trendy bar. It also was the location of an increasing number of food festivals, meaning thousands from all over the city were showing up on a regular basis for cooking demonstrations at the Saturday farmers market, for paella, burgers and barbecue or tamales, and for the restaurants, all in the quest of good food.

A glimpse into the kitchen at the Granary.

The list of new restaurants includes the Granary ‘Cue and Brew, which restored beer making to the premises. Artisan barbecue, fine brews and an irresistible condiment known as ‘cue butter all made this a welcome addition. The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden delivers on the belief that quality grilled meat is prerequisite in the Lone Star State, and the massive setting, covering two stories, is epic enough to complement chef James Moore’s ranch-style fare.

The most intriguing addition, though, is NAO, the Culinary Institute of America’s full-service restaurant, which has provided San Antonio with its broadest and most authentic taste of South and Central American cuisines to date. These exciting flavors, from seafood stews and roasted meats to an inviting cocktail program, have somehow not been able to secure a foothold before in a city that values its Tex-Mex above all; yet in just a few months, NAO has developed a local following, and its client base should grow as word continues to get out to the rest of the country that the school has a campus and a destination restaurant here. When the visiting chef series returns, with culinary stars from countries as diverse as Brazil, Peru and Argentina, you’d be wise to make your reservations as soon as possible.

The CIA’s flagship restaurant in San Antonio.

NAO is also built on the concept of small plates, which has also not been widely popular in San Antonio. Yet Bite in the Southtown area and a revitalized Nosh on Austin Highway are joining in the effort to break that mold.

Southtown continued to attract diners from across the city, as Mark Bliss returned with a new restaurant, the aptly named Bliss. The warmth of the place, the impressive setting and the comfort of the food, especially when enjoyed at the chef’s table in the kitchen, all help place it among the city’s best.

Johnny Hernandez opened two distinct venues in the Southtown area, if not Southtown proper. They include the Frutería at the Steel House Lofts, where you can get everything from market-fresh fruit for breakfast to an impressive array of, you got it, small plates for dinner, and Casa Hernán, an airy catering facility and brunch spot in his own home.

Another welcome addition to the Southtown scene was the Alamo Street Eat Bar, a food truck park that featured crazy good burgers from Cullum’s Attaboy, the Peacemaker combination of pork belly and fried oysters from Where Y’At and the DUK Truck’s duck confit tacos. Add Zum Sushi, The Institute of Chili, Wheelie Gourmet and a few other visitors, as well as a great beer lineup, and you’ve got some wonderful fresh treats. And what do food trucks provide but small plates, albeit from different plates, giving you the feel of being on a tapas trail?

An “Eat Street” crew films at the Point Park & Eats.

Another food truck park that opened up north in Leon Springs was the Point Park & Eat, which also offers a great beer selection and a wide array of foods from a lineup that has changed in the months that it’s been open. The culinary confections come from trucks such as Skinny Cat, Gourmet on the Fly, Blazin’ Burgers and Say-She-Ate.

Television continued to discover may of these culinary gems. Say-She-Ate was one of four food trucks filmed for the TV series, “Eat Street.” The others include Rickshaw Stop, Tapa Tapa and Society Bakery. Meanwhile, PBS celebrity chef Ming Tsai came to town to film segments of “Simply Ming” with Diana Barrios Treviño from Los Barrios, Elizabeth Johnson of the CIA, John Besh of Lüke (visiting from New Orleans) and Johnny Hernandez at La Gloria.

Sustenio, with Stephan Pyles’ blessing and David Gilbert’s gifts, made people realize the Eilan Hotel Resort and Spa off I-10 was not just a pretty façade. Its menu, with much of the dishes derived from local meats and produce, features an exciting array of ceviches that captured the freshness of the sea and a number of dishes using South Texas Heritage Pork products.

The $13 Burger at Knife & Fork.

The gastropub movement continued with the opening of Knife & Fork in the Stone Oak area. An outgrowth of the Bistro Six food truck, it offered a $13 Burger worth every cent, an extensive cocktail program and a laid-back atmosphere.

Meanwhile, the bistronomy craze — a hybrid of “bistro” and “gastronomy” — could be found in Laurent’s Modern Cuisine on McCullough Avenue. Next door to the still-vibrant and dependable Bistro Vatel, it proved that a segment of San Antonio does love its French food.

For those who enjoy a meal every now and then at home, the number of gourmet groceries grew, thanks to the addition of Trader Joe’s in the Quarry Extension and a second Whole Foods on Blanco Road, north of Loop 1604. The food warehouse Gaucho Gourmet expanded its hours to the public to six days a week, while Groomer’s Seafood reeled in even more seafood lovers, especially when lobsters hit a mouthwatering low of $5.95 apiece.

Classic cocktails have made a comeback.

San Antonio lifted it spirits high during the year. Distilled spirits, that is. Mixed drinks, both shaken and stirred, got a huge boost from the first annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. But it didn’t stop there. The Blue Box in the Pearl and the downtown Brooklynite joined the likes of Bar 1919 in the Blue Star Complex and the bar at NAO as havens for hand-crafted classic cocktails. A rye sour shaken with traditional egg white, a real martini made with gin and a pisco sour bright with freshly squeezed citrus were all incentives that made exploring these nightspots fun.

Expect beer’s popularity to soar in the new year. Beyond the excellent brews at the Granary, we await Alamo Beer’s ambitious plans for a downtown complex that will feature a restaurant as well as a brewing facility as well as the launch of Branchline Brewery.

What else can we expect? The Pearl will continue to expand with the openings of Jesse Perez’s Arcade Midtown Kitchen and an as-yet-unnamed venture from Steven McHugh as well as the move of Green Vegetarian Cuisine, all of which will add to the draw of the campus. Culinaria has announced plans for a community garden center offering food and agricultural education for the city. Andrew Weissman is taking over the former Liberty Bar site on Josephine Street.

With these strides forward on so many fronts, the city’s culinary scene should continue to offer some enticing new flavors for anyone with a healthy appetite.

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Brighten Your Meal with an Easy Appetizer of Ceviche de Corvina Panameño


This ceviche recipe, which Panamanian chef Elena Hernández shared at the recent Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus, is an easy appetizer that is colorful, bright and refreshing.

Ceviche de Corvina Panameño

1 pound white sea bass (corvino),  fillet
Salt, to taste
2 ounces celery, finely chopped
4 ounces red onion, finely julienned
Juice of 8 limes
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ají chombo  (see note)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Thinly slice the fish.

Mix fish, salt, celery, onion, lime juice, cilantro, ají chombo and olive oil. Allow the mixture to cool for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Note: Ají chombo is a Panamanian pepper akin to habaneros, which can be used as a substitute.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Elena Hernández/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

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One of Mexico City’s Top Chefs Finds Inspiration in Rotten Bananas


Enrique Olvera of Mexico City’s Pujol addresses the Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium.

When Enrique Olvera was a child, his grandmother would take rotten baby bananas and turn them into a dish that she would proudly serve to the entire family.

The chef, who heads Mexico City’s celebrated Pujol restaurant, hated the dish back then. “We weren’t rich, but we certainly weren’t poor,” he recalled Wednesday during the opening of the Culinary Institute of America’s annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the San Antonio campus.

But the image of rotten old bananas somehow seemed beneath his family, at least when filtered through his youthful perspective.

Now that he’s in charge of a world-renowned kitchen and the Mexican City guide, Chilango, has named him Chef of the Decade, Olvera has found inspiration in his memory of those black-brown baby bananas. They are a proud part of the menu he serves at his restaurant, which he says focuses on food that is closer to home cooking than to fine dining — though it is more likely a savory combination of both.

For  this dish, he sautés the overripe baby bananas in clarified butter before topping them with macadamia nuts, a vinegar-infused sour cream and mint leaves.

Just sear the banana, he said. That gives it a texture similar to foie gras. Also, be careful to baste the banana with as much of the butter as possible.

The end result is not as sweet as you might think , because the longer the bananas ripen, the less sweet they become. And that suits Olvera just fine. “I hate sweet things, for some reason,” he said.

If the thought of bananas aged beyond the point where you’d use them in banana bread turns you off, the way they did when Olvera was a child, then think of them in this light: “You guys in America like to age your beef,” the chef said. “Why can’t we age our fruit.”

Ripe Banana, Grated Macadamia Nuts, Mint and Sour Cream

You want very ripe bananas for this recipe.

6 tablespoons clarified butter
4 baby bananas, very ripe, sliced
8 macadamia nuts
1/8 cup sour cream
1/3 teaspoon banana vinegar (see note)
Spice blend, for garnish (see below)
8 leaves mint microgreens
Ground cocoa nibs, for garnish

Spice blend:
Chilhuacle negro chile, for garnish
Cardamom, for garnish
Black pepper
Clove

Preheat oven to 285 degrees.

Heat the butter in a sauté pan, and fry the sliced bananas until they are golden in color. Place in a asheet pan lined with parchment paper, reserve.

Roast the  macadamia nuts in the oven for 18 minutes.

Mix the cream with the banana vinegar, place in a pastry bag and reserve.

For the spice blend: Toast the chilhuacle negro chile, cardamom, black pepper and clove. Grind and mix.

On a large plate, place the fried bananas and, with a microplane, grate the macadamia nuts on top like a cloud. Pout a dollop of sour cream on each end of the banana, sprinkle with the spice blend, garnish with mint and scatter some cocoa powder over the top.

Note: You can order banana vinegar from Rancho Gordo. You can substitute another heavily fruit-flavored vinegar, though you may want to use a little less.

Makes 4 servings.

From Enrique Olvera/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

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SA Spices Up Latin Flavors, American Kitchens


Elena Hernandez discusses the foods of Panama.

In Panama, culantro is the herb that gives the canal country’s dishes their distinctive flavor.

That’s culantro, not cilantro, as chef Elena Hernández explained to a gathering of chefs, food purveyors and educators as the fifth annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium got under way Wednesday at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus.

She didn’t know if she’d be able to find the pungent herb in San Antonio either, so she brought it with her in her luggage. She did the same with her favorite types of chiles, too. And when she was stopped at customs, she informed the agent that it has all been blanched.

Laughs of recognition greeted that statement, as the crowd featured a number of chefs from Central and South America, who have traveled to other countries only to discover that they could not prepare their cuisine in an authentic manner because a dried chile or an exotic fruit was not available.

Yet Hernández, who organizes the Panamá Gastronómica International Fair, did find fresh culantro in San Antonio, a sign that the city’s ethnic markets and specialty groceries are growing to meet the expanding tastes of people within the city.

Honey Gingerbread

That same story is happening across the country, which is why the CIA presents the symposium. You’ll find Latin flavors throughout the celebrated cooking of Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo or Maricel Presilla of New Jersey’s Zafra and Cucharamama as well as small kitchens in cities from San Francisco to New York.

Demand for Latin food and drink continues to grow, which is why the symposium is able to draw top chefs and food writers, including Roberto Santibañez, Mark Miller and Anne E. McBride in addition to Bayless and Presilla. This year, a handful of San Antonio names appear on the speaker list, including Puerto Rico-born Nelson Millán of the San Antonio Country Club, Jeret Peña of the Esquire Tavern, and Elizabeth Johnson, Geronimo Lopez-Monascal and Iliana de la Vega, all of whom work in various capacities at the CIA.

Scallops in Recado Negro

The list of visiting chefs from abroad include Francisco Casto of the Panamá International Hotel School, Dante Franco of Espacio Dolli in Buenos Aires, Christian Bravo of Punta del Mar in Merida, Mexico, Hubert O’Farrell of O’Farrell  in Buenos Aires, and Rodrigo Oliveira of Mocotó in São Paolo, Brazil

Topics this year include The Latin Wow Factor Strategy, More Than Lettuce: The Versatile Salads of Latin America, Cuisines of the Southern Caribbean, and How Do You Do Latin Cuisines Outside of Latin America?

The following is a sample salad from Francisco Castro, which is part of the More Than Lettuce discussion.

Panama-Style Beet Salad (Ensalada de Feria)

2 pounds potatoes, boiled and peeled
1 pound beets, cooked and peeled
1 cup mayonnaise
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

Panama-Style Beet Salad

Cut the potatoes and beets in 1/4-inch dice.

In a glass bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the eggs, onion, celery, parsley, and lime juice.

Add the reserved potatoes and beets; mix with wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 8-10 servings.

From Francisco Castro/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

 

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Chocolate Class. What Could Be Tastier?


Learn to make desserts in a CIA Boot Camp.

An exclusive tasting with a master chocolatier from the Lindt USA company will be the highlight of a three-day Dessert Boot Camp offered by the Culinary Institute of America,  San Antonio, set for Oct. 29-31.

Master chocolatier Ann Czaja from Lindt & Sprüngli, a producer of premium chocolate, will provide a unique demonstration for Dessert Boot Camp attendees. Students will hear about the history of chocolate and chocolate production, savor the key ingredients for making premium chocolate, learn about Lindt’s premium chocolate production process and be led in a guided connoisseur-level tasting session of Lindt premium chocolate. Finally, they will prepare a classic Lindt chocolate recipe.

The American-born Czaja began her career in Zurich, where she first developed an interest in culinary arts. After she completed a three-year course of study in desserts, she became a licensed pastry chef/chocolatier. She began work for Lindt & Sprüngli as a master chocolatier at one of Lindt’s Zurich-based chocolate boutiques, conducting live demonstrations on the art of working with premium chocolate. In 2006, Czaja returned to the United States and was named the Lindt master chocolatier for Lindt USA. She is co-author of “Lindt Chocolate Passion,” a history of chocolate and Lindt’s Master Chocolatiers.

CIA is hosting a dessert boot camp.

In the CIA’s Dessert Boot Camp, students will learn the key to preparing a variety of well-loved desserts, from the traditional to the trendy. Unlock the secret to homemade cream puffs and cupcakes. Learn the techniques for making fillings such as custard and mousse, as well as perfecting presentation methods using dessert sauces and impressive garnishes. All students in the CIA Dessert Boot Camp will receive a chef’s uniform, which includes a jacket, pants, and neckerchief. Paper hats, side towels, and aprons will be provided in class. Tuition for the three-day class is $1,325.00 per person. The class will run from Monday, Oct. 29, to Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, from 7 a.m.-1:30 p.m. each day.

To enroll in the CIA Dessert Boot Camp at the San Antonio campus, visit www.ciachef.edu/enthusiasts or call (800) 206-8425. Space is limited.

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Bolivian Chef Visits NAO


Eric Calderon brings a taste of Bolivia to NAO at the CIA.

Chef Eric Calderón of Grupo Gastronómico in Bolivia has brought his native cuisine to San Antonio this week. He is the latest guest chef to appear at NAO, the New World restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in the Pearl Brewery,  312 Pearl Parkway.

Students at the culinary school will be working with him, while the public can taste his creations on Sept. 14-15.

The Novo Andino prix-fixe menu includes P’eske, a Bolivian Quinua Real, Ají Amarillo, Queso Fresco; Soltero, a Giant Choclo Corn, Queso Fresco, Tomato, Red Onion, Locoto peppers, and Chicha Reduction; Charquean Paceño, a Sun Dried Beef Tenderloin, Fava Beans, Stuffed T’unta Freeze Dried Potatoes, and Poached Guinea Egg; Mondongo, Pork Ribs Bathed in Ají Colorado and Garlic Sauce with Pork Skin and “Mote” Hominy Corn; and Sucumbé, a Warm Bolivian “Ponche” Seasoned with Clove and Canela.

The cost of the meal is $65.

The Latin Cuisine Certificate Program began on June 18 and has featured a variety of food from Peru, Brazil and now Bolivia, with renowned visiting chefs that specialize in each cuisine. The last installment of the program will be the cuisines of Argentina with visiting chef Hubert O’Farrell on Sept. 20-25.

For reservations, call (210) 554-6484.

 

 

 

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