Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

This is a very important post from Chef Percy Whatley. He attended an event focused on Latin cuisine which is a growing segment in American food.  Enjoy.

I recently had the privilege of attending  the annual “Latin Flavors, American Kitchens,” – a professional development seminar at the new Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, TX.

The seminar was a tightly held agenda of short demonstrations with prominent chefs from various countries.  Peru, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Equador, Cuba, Guatemala and the Southwestern United States were all represented.

Some like it hot, others don’t.  What was eye-opening for me was the variety of spice levels the different countries desire.   There was everything from quite spicy, to almost no heat at all, just using the mild chilies for flavor only.

Many of the cuisines use similar in ingredients, however, just a different ratio to signify the unique flavor profile of the culture.  These ingredients include well known and widely used items such as:  cilantro, tomatoes, onions, masa harina, corn, pumpkin, mushrooms, etc.  The chilies are where it became new: aji Amarillo, chile tepin, chile pasado, chile Colorado, and the wider known, ancho, guajillo, arbol, negro and New Mexico.  The fresh ones included habanero, jalapeno, Serrano, Fresno, Hatch, Pablano, red and yellow sweet bells, etc.  The variety was colorful and inviting and each had their own flavor profile which added to each particular dish.

Many of the cooking styles are familiar to most of us.  There was, however, the iconic meat skewered on a cross, cooked over an open fire there though.  Something we don’t see very often.  This time it was a baby goat, or Cabrito, which was tender and juicy.  Lots of different kinds of salsas and salads, and an amazing Amazonian fish called Pirarucu that was amazingly tasty.  It is a gigantic, and prehistoric, fish.

Overall, the experience brought to light the diversity of Latin American cuisine.  Given that it is a major market segment within the United States, and an ever-growing population segment, we cannot ignore the fact our ability to deliver food inspired by this style of cooking has to continually evolve and improve.  It is not just tacos and burritos anymore, it is much, much deeper…OLÉ!!!

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