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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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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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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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Griffin to Go: Welcome to the Era of the Taco Truck

Fine dining is dead.

That’s what celebrated chef Mark Miller declared last October at the Culinary Institute of America’s Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference at the Pearl Brewery.

In the foodie world, that was akin to the New York Times saying God was dead. But God survived, and so will fine dining.

Yet Miller had his point. A growing number of diners are tired of waiting through a three-hour meal while the chef serves up an array of food designed to dazzle all of our senses, not just our taste buds. San Antonio’s own temple of haute cuisine, Le Rêve, closed its doors the same month as Miller’s grand statement, a fact we still mourn.

We still want the connection to the chef that we got at Le Rêve, where we could see Andrew Weissman supervise every morsel that appeared from the kitchen. Yet we want it quickly, so we can rush back home to our video games, our DVRs and our other time wasters.

That’s why Miller hailed taco trucks as the next big thing. The trend has grown from California and New York to cities across the country, including San Antonio, where the number of mobile eateries is on the rise. Why? Because we can walk up to a taco truck, have a conversation with the cook behind the screen, and then sit down to a freshly made plate of food. No fuss, not much wait, generally great food. And we know the person who made it. We know he or she left off the onions or grilled the carnitas a little crispier than average, just as we wanted. We know that what we are eating was made especially for us.

I feel that way whenever I visit one of my favorites, Erick’s Tacos, which I will use as an illustration. This modest little converted garage on Nacogdoches has mini-tacos so good, I sometimes have to drop what I’m doing and drive over for a plate of four covered in carne asada, then crowned with onion and cilantro. Bowls of lime slices are at most of the tables, as are squeeze bottles of the habanero salsa to finish off the treats with an extra charge of flavor. The iciest Mexican Fresca or Coca-Cola substitutes for the fine French Champagne that once bubbled in our glasses. There’s no air conditioning in summer or heat, in the winter, but neither condition seems to stop people from pouring in for more. And at the end of the evening, you have enough to think about another meal.

To me, that last sentence is at the root of the matter. Our eating cycles parallel the width of our wallets. With the country experiencing economic turmoil, a great many of us turn to comfort foods. So when we eat out, we go to a neighborhood joint where we can get a burger, a slice of pizza or a plate of mini-tacos.

That’s the approach behind Johnny Hernandez’s upcoming La Gloria on the Pearl Brewery campus. It will celebrate the type of Mexican street food you find south of the border. The people behind the Pearl project have also tapped Shelley Grieshaber to lasso a few of the mobile units in town to the Pearl for a corral of treats that complements the current Saturday fixture, Saweet Cupcakes.

But is fine dining dead? No. Some of us love to treat ourselves to a regular feast or merely dine out on a special occasion. We just love to have the choice. That’s why Bruce Auden’s new venture, Auden’s Kitchen, features prices that are far less than they are at his Biga on the Banks. Yet Biga remains a beloved fixture on the scene, as do Jason Dady’s Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills and Weissman’s Sandbar, with its Le Rêve-inspired dishes among a host of other high-end restaurants.

Making room for more flavors at all ends of the price scale is something to celebrate, with Mexican Coke or Veuve Clicquot. I’m off to Erick’s.

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Old Friends, New Flavors


Thursday’s exploration of Latin Flavors, American Kitchens, the theme of a three-day conference at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus included a few old friends seen in new light.

Chocolate and vanilla took center stage for side-by-side tastings of each ingredient as it grows in various regions.

These New World gifts to cuisine are not as simple as you might think. They’re not even simple to Maricel E. Presilla, who wrote the once-authoritative “The New Taste of Chocolate.” That book appeared in 2001 and has become obsolete in eight years, she announced.

That’s because the world’s view of chocolate has grown and shifted. Environmental forces, such as a fungal spread in Brazil, and political forces, including civil war in the Ivory Coast, have juggled the names of the top producers of this treat. More countries than ever, such as Vietnam, are growing cacao. New information on the health benefits of chocolate have occurred. New classifications of chocolate types have emerged as well.

All of these have forced the author and culinary historian to revamp her book for a forthcoming edition. Will it be called “The New, New Taste of Chocolate”? She didn’t say.

She did lead a tasting that showed just how different chocolates from various regions of the world can be. Brazilian chocolate has what she calls a lingering citrus-y quality on the finish, while chocolate from the Dominican Republic packs a fruity punch. Ecuadorean chocolate has an almost jasmine aroma, while the flavor reminded me of vanilla-poached pear. Chocolate from Venezuela displays an almost dried fruit quality, while Peruvian chocolate has a high astringency.


Moderator Greg Drescher of the Culinary Institute of America (standing) discusses the future of Latin cuisines in restaurants with chefs Wilo Benet (from left), Norman Van Aken, Robert Del Grande and Mark Miller.

There is also Mexican chocolate, which is different in the amount of sugar and cinnamon used. It has a grittier texture that some might not like, said CIA instructor Francisco Migoya, but it has its partisans, as most San Antonians already know.

Migoya demonstrated the lure of Meixcan chocolate in a side-by-side tasting of molded candies, one filled with Mexican chocolate ganache, the other with Peruvian chocolate. Both would be great on a sampler plate. (See recipes below.)

Norma Gaya’s family has been in the vanilla business for five generations. The spokeswoman of Gaya Vanilla Plantation in Veracruz said that there were more than 100 types of vanilla in the world and that the fruit of the orchid tastes different from variety to variety.

She demonstrated this with a taste of Tahitian vanilla against Madagascar vanilla and Veracruz vanilla, the latter two of which are different expressions of the same type of bean. All different, with tastes ranging from a touch of cedar on the Veracruz version to the almost-cinnamon quality of the Tahitian vanilla.

But no matter the variety, the process of obtaining a vanilla bean is painstaking. The flower must be pollinated and that must occur on the one day the bloom is open. And it is done by hand at vanilla plantations like hers.

Vanilla is a like a woman, Gaya said: “She is very jealous. You have to visit her every day.” And you have to be faithful to her, she added.

The future of dining

Are U.S. diners ready for Latin flavors on restaurant menus? And how do you sell them on flavors they’ve never tasted?

Those questions were supposed to be addressed in a panel titled “Menus 2010: The Business of Presenting Excellence in Latin Foods.” The group of speakers strayed from the topic into a discussion of the future of restaurants as a whole, and few seemed to mind.

In the past 40 years, Mark Miller, one of the founders of the Southwestern movement, has seen a greater willingness on the part of people to try new foods, but those same people seem less interested in what they’re eating, where it comes from or what culture produced it.

“We’ve lost our sense of sophistication and taste,” he said. “One of things about ethnic foods is a certain complexity.” And people don’t want that any more. They want bold, fresh, simple food.

Even more than that, they want a connection with the person producing the food. That’s why street food is exploding on the scene. It’s why sushi gained popularity.

“People want real food,” Miller said. “People want a connection with their food by the people who made it.”

Norman Van Aken, the Miami-based chef and cookbook author, took that notion a step further. More and more people also want a connection with the food their eating by asking for more locally produced items, he said.

That’s certainly what the Latin cuisines presented during the conference are all about, cooks creating memorable dishes using what’s available around them. But how do you stay local and introduce new dishes that sometimes call for ingredients that must be transported? That angle never came up with the panel, but Van Aken said afterward that it is forcing him to rethink items on his menu. Avocados, citrus and seafood are plentiful around him, but asparagus is not. So, what can he use in the place of something like asparagus? He’s doing his research to find out.

Robert Del Grande of Houston, whose famed Cafe Annie became RDG + Bar Annie earlier this year, said there has been a definite shift away from formal dining. He didn’t care for the term “fine dining,” because “I think street food can be fine.” Regardless of what you call it, fewer people want to spend hours over a restaurant meal. Dishes that were once considered miracles by epicures are now too slow for most people, he said.

Van Aken agreed. Years ago, it would have been deemed a horror for anyone to use a cellphone in an upscale restaurant. Now, people are hauling out their laptops and blogging or text-messaging reviews of their meals as they are occurring.

To close out the panel and bring the topic back to Latin cuisine, moderator Greg Drescher of the CIA asked each of the panelists which region of Central or South America would offer the next “big thing” in dining.

Wilo Benet of Puerto Rico said he thought it would be whichever country or area had a signature dish that caught on. He cited the growing popularity of ceviche, which originated in Peru.

He would like his own country to make its mark, but he admitted that he’s still trying to figure out which dish would have capture the market’s fancy.

Van Aken favors Argentina, because of our attraction to beef. It’s also appealing because the beef there is grass-fed, and there’s a growing interest in that. Brazil is another possibility because of its mixture of flavors such as coconut milk and dendê oil; it’s “where the flavor gods live,” he said.

Del Grande seconded Benet’s theory that a single dish that people can latch onto would signal the next big movement. He thinks it will depend on where people travel the most and what dishes they want to eat again once they return home. That could be Brazil because of the upcoming Olympics.

Miller agreed with Brazil for several reasons, including the economic status of the country. More than that, Brazilians love to cook with fruit and “Americans love fruit.”

But don’t rule out Mexico, Miller said. “Mexico seems to have finally found a confidence” to build on and expand its traditions, he said. Twenty years ago, Mexico was copying France; now it’s ready to present its culinary treasures to the world on its own terms, he said.

Mexican Chocolate Ganache

8 ounces heavy cream
8 ounces Mexican chocolate, finely chopped (see note)
4 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces

In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Pour half over the chocolate and stir. Add the other half and continue stirring until the chocolate has dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool to 86 degrees and then stir in the butter.

Note: You can make this recipe with chocolate of  desired cocoa level.

You can use the ganache as a center of chocolate candies or top ice cream. Use it as a cake filling or cupcake frosting. Or, as one person exclaimed: Just give me a spoon.

Adapted from Latin Flavors, American Kitchens/Culinary Institute of America

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