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(Best Of Year 1) Ñam 2014, The Day After Observations

By Patrick Hieger

(Originally published on 04.07.14)

[photo: Patrick Hieger]

[photo: Patrick Hieger]

Now that Ñam is over and the wine, hot dogs, tapas, wine, and more hot dogs begins to slowly make its way out of our bodies, let’s take a few minutes to look back at the fourth edition of Chile’s largest and most important food festival.  Lastarria couldn’t have been a better neighborhood to host the festival, within easy walking distance of great food and drinks, and already oozing with ambience.  Certainly the festival’s organizers are already taking notes about what worked, what didn’t, and what’s going to happen in 2015.  We’re already counting down the days.  Below, a look at some of the festival’s main highlights.

(Best Of Year 1) The Top Burgers In Buenos Aires

By Olivia Amter

(Orginally published on 02.01.14)

Like everywhere else in the world, burger fever hit Buenos Aires hard. Beef is an obvious Argentinian staple, as is the ubiquitous patty that graces the handwritten menu at just about every mobile parilla. The new trend, however, strives for a more U.S. style burger with creative fixins’ and *the perfect bun*, not to mention a healthy dose of french fries. We’re totally on board (hence the whole week dedicated to the gorgeously grilled patty between two lovingly toasted buns) and got to work tasting some of Buenos Aires’ best new burger spots. After both good and not so good, great and amazing, we finally settled on our absolute favorite burgers.

Oh, and please forgive us if the photos induce any unseemly dribbling on your computer; it comes with the territory.

(Best Of Year 1) Como Sur’s Best Of 2013 Awards

 

[image: Como Sur]

[image: Como Sur]

Without further ado, save for this brief paragraph that we’ve decided to put in place so you have to scroll down, we would like to present you, our readers, with the results of the first ever Como Sur Best of 2013 Awards.  Votes flooded in almost immediately from the moment we opened the polls last Monday, and people from around the world–as far as Australia–have voted.   Overall, it was great to see votes come in from all over, and to see how passionate foodies, travelers, our readers, and more have become about South American gastronomy, and the massive leaps it has taken in the last decade.

As Como Sur progresses (we’re only eight and a half months old!), so will the awards.  Next year, rest assured, we’ll have Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela present.  Event with only half of the continent covered, though, there were some extremely tight races, and even a few blowouts.  Needless to say, readers are excited about where gastronomy in South America is heading.  So, read up, celebrate, and look forward to a fantastic 2014.  We’re expecting brilliant things to come.

(Best Of Year 1) Virgilio Martínez: The Man Within The Chef

In the second part of her story on eating and spending time in Cusco, Peru with chef Virgilio Martínez, staff writer Lauren Barragan gives us a closer look at who the chef really is.  In her first piece, we got to hear about the experience of dining at Senzo, the chef’s Cusco outpost that focuses on food sourced exclusively from the region.  Here, we get to know a little more about what drives the chef and how he handles fame, celebrity status, and a whirlwind lifestyle.  Serenity is in the mountains.

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(Best Of Year 1) Cocina Sin Fronteras Featuring Kamilla Seidler

By Olivia Amter

(Originally published 12.23.13)

Warmed plates, a flourish of color, a crack, a sprinkle, a placing of the star item, maybe another sprinkle, a dollop, and a bell rings. It’s a common sequence of events in a restaurant, and it means someone is about to eat. But at this restaurant, and especially on this night, this sequence of events is just about the only thing that can be compared to a normal night out in search of a bite.

The brilliantly named, Proyecto Cocina Sin Fronteras (Project Cooking without Borders) is the brainchild of Chef Fernando Rivarola, chef and owner of El Baqueano in Buenos Aires. The project aims to create an environment in which renowned chefs from around the world may come to his BA restaurant, regional ingredients in tow, and collaborate with him in a fantastic display of cooking local. The project emphasizes the use of regional, traditional foods as a way of exchanging cultural knowledge, preserving traditions, and challenging the food scene to move away somewhat from its focus on imported cooking styles and flavors to build a gourmet food scene. Proyecto Cocina Sin Fronteras has already held multiple of the once-a-month tasting menu nights, after having kicked off with decorated Brazilian Chef Alex Atala of D.O.M., whose restaurant has been given the recognition as being among the top 10 restaurants in the world.

For this edition to close the 2013 cycle, renowned chef Kamila Seidler of recently inaugurated Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia joined us in Buenos Aires. What makes her role in this restaurant so special is the history behind it. Gustu is not only an innovative and tradition-honoring restaurant, but also a socially minded, poverty combating project created as part of The Melting Pot Foundation by Chef Claus Meyer of NOMA, the famed Copenhagen restaurant known for its use of traditional, regional ingredients and often raw items. Seidler, along with co-Chef Michelangelo Cestari, were chosen as the perfect team to engage in the teaching and training of low-income Bolivian youth in the culinary arts as a way of providing valuable vocational skills in a country known for its extreme poverty. At the same time, the project aims to bring local ingredients into the gourmet food scene, which is more inclined to be dominated by foreign styles and ingredients. Now, Gustu is a fully functioning restaurant that employs low-income Bolivians in the kitchen and in the dining room.

But onto to the main event: our Cocina Sin Fronteras night that showcased Argentine and Bolivian cuisine in the dining room of El Baqueano, on the corner of Chile and Bolivar in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. I was invited not to the dinner table, but instead to participate in the before, during and after of the night – far more of a treat, as far as I was concerned. I was joined by veteran food photographer (and much more talented then little me) Pablo Baracat and the ultra fantabulous food film director, Ferran Castellnou. You have never seen food and restaurants look so beautiful as in his videos on The Great Cuisine.

As soon as the tables were set and final details finished, guests began to arrive into the sumptuously decorated dining room that, as I was told by Pablo, was too dark – mood-lighting you might call it – for effortlessly beautiful photos. Too bad! I was mostly there for the food anyway. And you wouldn’t believe the smells.


On the bar in the main dining room Chef Fernando Rivarola was also prepping his area, gearing up to prepare his dishes within meters of the guests at their tables. His manner is relaxed and warm, and his quiet display of passion for what he does infectious. He was quick to hold out a bowl for me to try one of the ingredients he was carefully placing on a dish. We discussed the deliciously sweet and salty sea asparagus in depth. His first dish was the deliciously fatty river fish given the name “Jamon del Rio” (Ham of the River), which was delicately stretched across a wooden plate.

 

In the kitchen, everything was also already underway. Chef Kamilia Seidler was engrossed in the preparation of her courses, hardly looking up except to exchange a few word with her sous-chef, who had traveled with her from Bolivia, or flash a smile and make a joke. If she was at all nervous, she did not show it – her assured movements showed her confidence in the kitchen.

 

Her first dish was a puffed, fried corn cracker filled with a sweet corn cream and piled with shredded rabbit meat, pan fried maize and lemon. This teaser was a one-bite dish that exploded with lemony flavor and a mixture of textures (crunch, creamy, chewy, meaty). I would have eaten these babies by the bucketfull if I could have gotten my hands on more. I had to be content with 2 or 3.

With each guest’s arrival it became clearer that there is a specific, food-enthusiast set that attends these exclusive and innovative nights. Without naming names, some of the top people in restaurant reviews, El Gourmet and Nespresso all graced El Baqueano’s dining room that evening. I was impressed.

As the evening got underway I watched as the wait staff, kitchen staff, sommelier and chefs effortlessly came together to execute and serve the dishes. This was no small feat considering that the tasting menu boasted 10 dishes, each beautifully placed onto their own decorated plates. Talk about a feast for the eyes.


The next pair of dishes showed off small andean potatoes in two ways. The first was Rivarola’s papas andinas, which added a touch of socially minded gastronomy to the night in its own right –  the micro potatoes are collected by an indigenous community in the northern Argentinian province of Salta as part of the entrepreneurial arm of Fundacion Alfarcito. The potatoes were prepared in a variety of textures and temperatures: puree, foam, fried chips, dehydrated, in paper-thin strips, crunchy, and even whole and cooked at low temperatures. A creative mouth-full for sure.

Chef Seidler followed with papalisas, a leafy tuber, with red beets, perfumed with hibiscus shards and hibiscus flower vinegar – a supremely earthy and surprisingly juicy combination.

Seidler spent the night circulating the dining room, serving, interacting and explaining her dishes to guests who were grinning like kids with a new toy, excited to have the star of the night standing at their table. If it had been socially acceptable to follow her around, not even trying to hide my eavesdropping, I would have done it. Unfortunately I adhere to social norms and had to be content snapping shots of the happy customers instead.

The rest of the mains catered to the meat-eating traditions of the two countries. Chef Rivarola moved to the Argentine coast first and served up pan fried dumplings stuffed with shrimp from Puerto Madryn and garnished with scallion. The shrimp wrapped in a delicate pasta, conjured up ocean flavors from the sea that, perhaps overwhelming to some, was nonetheless a nice juxtaposition to the land meats that were to come.


Seidler went a little more land animal, putting together a dish with thinly sliced cauliflower, shredded alpaca jerky and and a creamy poached egg yolk. This dish is a twist on a Gustu staple, which uses hearts of palm and quail egg to complement the smoked alpaca meat. I saw first hand how difficult it was to handle the egg yolks, which often burst (as raw egg yolks tend to do) in the chef’s hands as she attempted to carefully place them into the bowl.

On to the main dishes. The first of the mains was Seidler’s llama steak served with cactus, yogurt and wild honey. For anyone who is unfamiliar with llama, it is an incredibly flavorful meat which is reminiscent of a rare tuna steak in texture (at least in this preparation), but with the deep, complex flavor of dry-aged beef. Could this be the World’s next emu?

The next unusual meat was Rivarola’s lamb, which was termed an Argentinian “interpretation of pré-salé”, or a french lamb that is grazed in salt flats, giving the meat a distinct flavor. This version was paired with an under-the-sea scene complete with different types of seaweed chips, powder, mousse and foam, and “salicornia”, those fascinating little sea asparagus. The rush of salt that accompanied the sweet crunch of the ocean vegetable, combined with the visual display of the ocean ecosystem showed off Chef Rivarola’s ability to create a dish that mirrored the flavor of the European speciality, but with a distinctly local flair. Apparently there is a farmer in the south of Argentina that has even taken to cultivating these little guys out of their normally wild habitat.

 

(Side Note: Notice that so far there has been no “normal” meat. I discovered a hilarious little sign that said this perfectly: “We are not a parrilla. We do not serve beef. We do not serve chicken. We also don’t have a pasta option”. In plain english: Go away picky eaters.)

After a quick palate cleanser of creamy citrus sorbet, we moved on to the desserts. First up was Seidler’s chankaka with tumbo sorbet. Translation: raw sugar cream (almost more merengue like) with passionfruit sorbet and a sprinkle of something crunchy. The dessert was paired with a shot of singani, a Bolivian “fire water” with 40% alcohol. Delicious but oh so dangerous because of its mild flavor and little to no burn (read: drink this all night without noticing until you’re on the floor). Although I have never been the biggest ice cream or sorbet fan, the combination of textures and flavors was so wild it was more than satisfying.


The night was ended with a creative dessert by Chef Rivarola: chayote paste with a thin slice of cheese, a slice of edible wood, cinnamon ice cream, all topped with a peanut tuile. If you have ever had membrillo, guava or batata paste with a slab of cheese you may be familiar with this kind of dessert. However, the slices were thinner than the average hastily made snack and the flavors more delicate. The cinnamon ice cream was fresh and the edible wood (just as surprising and interesting to me as the sea asparagus) was soft and chewy, although not very distinguishable among the other, stronger flavors. The tuile added the perfect crunch.


Before I knew it (some 8 hours later) the night had ended. We laid a table for everyone, poured a couple of drinks and feasted on the nights leftovers. Food, wine, a couple of singani shots, and a whole lot of conversation later it was 4am. Over the course of the evening I had learned so much about food. Whereas I looked at some of the ingredients with surprise and maybe a little confusion, others nonchalantly detailed their origins. It was mind boggling the things I had never even heard of.

 

And that may have been the trick to the whole event. Not only was the experience a very special meeting of the culinary minds, but at the same time it stitched together traditions and realities, de-mystifying them to some extent. Ingredients were so surprising, yet oddly “normal” at the same time. None of them had traveled very far and all the dishes had an air of home-cooked grub made fit to grace a gourmet table. Whereas we are less impressed by the truly foreign (say, a great sushi restaurant in Buenos Aires), this experience exploits our lack of knowledge of the ingredients found closer to home, making their use that that much more interesting on our dinner plates.

 

And thats when I finally understood it: what makes Chef Rivarola’s concept so daring is that diners have the chance to take part in something so foreign and yet so local at the same time. So bring on the hand-picked, the low-production, the underutilized and maybe even the foraged. Cocina Sin Fronteras welcomes you with open doors.

For more information on Gustu check out our other articles here.

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(The Best Of Year 1) ‘El Viaje’ At Astrid y Gastón Lima

Astrid y Gastón’s ‘El Viaje,’ which tells the story of immigrants from Liguria, Italy, heading to Peru was easily one of the most widely discussed menus in South America this year.  As much theater as it was dinner, the meal was a 24-course trip through various textures and flavors.  Our writer Joanna Marracelli took the trip, and below gives us the account. 

(Originally published on 12.24.13)

By Joanna Marracelli

2013 has been one of my best years for food to date.  However, if I was pressed to pick one meal that stood out, I could do it with ease.  Astrid y Gaston’s ‘El Viaje’.  Now, I have had many extraordinary tasting menus in my lifetime but none can quite top this theatrical, artistic, almost over the top experience.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astrid y Gaston remains one of the oldest and best restaurants in Lima.  Gastón Acurio’s flagship restaurant, is just as groundbreaking today as it was when it was first created in 1994.  In 2011, executive chef Diego Muñoz joined the team and since then, Astrid y Gaston has gone from #42 on the world’s best restaurant list in 2011 to #14 this year.  It has also nabbed the #1 spot on Latin America’s best list.  But what do all these numbers really mean?  Does the food match the hype?  I was skeptical myself.  I had read a little bit about the tasting menu ‘El Viaje’ and I honestly thought it was a bit over the top.  I don’t really need a story with my food, I’d rather save the drama for the theater.  I remained hesitant whether or not I should even bother.  My curiosity finally got the better of me and before you know it, I was entering the restaurant armed with a healthy dose of apprehension.  I was about to be proved wrong.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

 

El Viaje which loosely translates to ‘the journey’ is really more of a voyage.  No, it’s even more than that.  It’s a production.  Upon being seated, I received a soft cloth, leather-bound book containing CD’s with music, letters, artwork and more.  I eyed it up and down and remained somewhat dismissive but I couldn’t help to be slightly intrigued.  I decided to just go with and have fun so I opened up my booklet.  Inside, through the artwork, it began to tell a story.  A story of an Italian immigrant from Liguria that comes to Callao, Peru during the time when many other Italians left their home soil for this faraway land.  Spanning 100 years, it represents a generation that has integrated Peruvian food into their soul without forgetting their roots.  The courses were broken up into five acts with various dishes within each of those acts resulting in a final twenty four courses. The kitchen was about to take me beyond basic gastronomy and into a metaphorical world that expanded every sense.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I waited for my first course, the waiter came over and explained the story and the first act, the introduction.  We were presented with a deconstructed Negroni of sorts served in a chilled silver elliptical bowl.  This was to be the start of something bigger than the concept itself.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next came the farewell.  The waiter appeared to be bringing over a suitcase.  And indeed that is just what it was.  A tiny suitcase was placed on the table and carefully opened revealing all of the treats the fictional character’s mother had placed inside for him to take with him on the long journey to Peru.  She encourages him to succeed and return as she cries and sees him off.  I felt myself getting slightly choked up as the waiter described each one of the little treats which included jam and cheese sandwiches and onions with artichokes.  My initial skepticism was beginning to melt away as I bit into each one of these perfectly made, delectable treats.  Each one was so well prepared and bursting with Italian flavors, I was beginning to feel like the character himself.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After this fantastic introduction, we moved onto the journey.  This is when the man, full of fears and dreams, begins to imagine what the Peruvian lands will look like.  We are served an alpaca tortellini which were absolute pillows of pasta revealing the meaty alpaca inside.  Guinea pig was molded perfectly into a terrine complete with gold-dusted Peruvian fruits.  And the standout, a potato pesto where the potatoes were shredded into long strands like pasta, topped with basil and pine nut milk.  Each one was executed expertly, showcasing bold flavors that paired together wholly.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on to the integration where Callao welcomes him.  These two countries can now embrace and will begin to share and learn from each others rich cultures.  The bounty of seafood that Peru offers is now seen and tasted here.  We have samples of ceviche, scallops and even a version of a tuna fish sandwich in the stunning bread with chimbombo.  I could taste the Peruvian influence as I swooned with each bite.  The fourth act, the triumph, represents the final culmination of Italian memories now with a Peruvian heart.  We sample the new Peruvian ingredients of huacatay and potato combined with Italian styles of cooking.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And lastly we move into the return.  Our hero is back home in Italy.  These are the stories and presents he brings with him from Peru as his family tastes and listens to all that is offered.  This starts the dessert dishes finishing off with a Peruvian single origin coffee served in a Chemex.  This was one of my favorite ‘acts’ in the entire meal.  We eased from the savory food to sweet with beetroot, gorgonzola and balsamic-the colors as bold as the flavors.  Going into the sweets more with cassata cake with mango followed by a large three-tiered tower that the waiter brought over.  The first tier revealed a taste of Peruvian fruits made into candy truffles, including lucuma and purple corn.  The next layer contained a deconstructed tiramisu which was both rich and sublime followed by a frozen panettone.

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

[photo: Laurent Lhomond]

 

As I finished the last of my twenty-four courses, I sat back and reflected on the three plus hours that had just passed.  While almost overly theatrical at times, I couldn’t help but be enamored by the story and had to admit that there were many times during the course of the meal where I was swept away into the story and flavors.  The food was extraordinary and could stand alone without all the drama.  But in the end, why would you want it to?  The whole experience complete with music and artistry touched my core and became one of the most unforgettable eating experiences of not only 2013 but my life.

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(Best Of Year 1) Ladies Of LatAm: Roberta Sudbrack

For today’s edition of The Ladies of Lat Am, we have an extra special treat from Brazil, Roberta Sudbrack.  Her answers to our questions floored us.  That’s all we’ll say.  Read up.

[photo: Roberta Sudbrack]

[photo: Roberta Sudbrack]

By Patrick Hieger

To start with, tell us about yourself.  Where are you from?  Brazilian?  From Sao Paolo or Rio?  
I’m “Gaúcha” but have lived for many years in Brasilia where I started my long road through the kitchen until I settled down in Rio for RS. I like it here, mostly the way it flows and I’ve come to add value. I’ve received plenty of invitations to work in São Paulo after leaving Palácio da Alvorada (for seven years I was Chef for the Brazilian President and responsible for the kitchen of his official residency – Palácio da Alvorada) but I ended up picking Rio. This city has a barefoot elegancy, an arrogance free sophistication. Personally, it has the best of all the simple things: the sea, the mountains, and it can still be cosmopolitan.

How did you come to be a cook?  What was the inspiration?
Since the time I used to sit in my granny’s kitchen waiting for her polenta-soaked chicken. Back then I had no idea that I would later become a chef. In fact, I couldn’t even fry an egg, but that world and all those amazing aromas kept attracting me even in an emotional way (something I would only realize far ahead). And practicing. Eating, smelling, touching, feeling is my job. I can stop going to the gym to work out but I can never stop training my taste and my smell. I had an opportunity to study to be a veterinarian in the U.S., and being passionate for animals I always thought I would become one. So I moved to the U.S. but ended up getting closer to the kitchen as I sold “quentinhas” to help balancing the budget. That kept growing inside me and I felt I was born into this world to cook. Simple and Definitely. So, personally, becoming a Chef was a life option. I didn’t over think the risks of that choice or if it would be a job that would bring me recognition (at that time it wasn’t for sure). But I follow the calling without arguing or weighing in every factor.

Did you go to culinary school?
No. I’m completely self-educated and it was that highly particular experience of stubbornness finding, by my own, knowledge that allowed me to develop my own methods and techniques. And that, combined with lots of emotion always guided my work. I use a lot of empirical knowledge making me try and experiment regularly. I travel a lot and tend to use my travels as a source of education, not only by going to restaurants (famous or not) but also local markets, fairs, supermarkets, people, dancing, art exhibits, music and above all books. I love buying books when I travel. This has always been my source of knowledge and my favorite way of learning.

Where do you travel to?
Places with a strong culinary background such as Italy, France, Spain and Portugal. But not necessarily their main cities only. The countryside, the life at the markets, the fairs, what locals eat. Good restaurants mixed with local “joints” and typical familiar businesses. Mediterranean food from Greece and the islands of Sardinia, Sicily and Pantelleria, Turkish spices, our strong connections with all Latin America, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina… all these trips took me to explore and see the world in a way that allows my food, besides being strongly Brazilian, to have a universal meaning.

Who was or is your mentor?
As I’ve answered before I didn’t go to cooking school. I’ve learned by reading, practicing a lot and traveling. My inspiration has always been Caréme, the classic cooking, and I have an huge admiration for Francis Mallmann and his precise technique and fire control.

When did Roberta Sudbrack open?
Nine years ago.

You’re in the ‘Global Selection’ for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.  How do you feel about the prize?
The list organized by the Restaurant magazine from the United Kingdom, shows the opinion and experience of specialists that pick, according to their personal experience what restaurants they think are the best in the world and now the finest of Latin America. In that sense we can’t deny that RS being in the list for 50 Best in Latin America is a great honor. The same happened when it was included in top 100 places to eat in the world. It’s pretty cool to be simultaneously part of both a world ranking and from our continent. Besides that the presence in the list of a growing number of Brazilian Restaurants – in comparison with the rest of the world, increases the interest for what we are doing gastronomically in Brazil and also in Latin America. But that recognition, and I don’t pretend to deny its importance, must never subvert or lead our beliefs. To keep our coherence with our creations is mandatory. We must never cook to win a prize or to be the trendy restaurant. We must be loyal to our beliefs in what concerns good cooking, increasing our chances to build a cookery that will go further than the seductive moment we receive our prize and that quickly fades away.

What are some of your goals with the restaurant?
We think that feeding people is way too precious and that gastronomy must be more than commercializing food. It must be a business for sure but above all it is an element of cultural identity and a way to make art as it is with our senses and emotions. Besides that, food is an important value for the well being of our bodies. Therefore we value and search for the traditional feeding systems as, in that way, we stimulate agricultural biodiversity imperative to build a healthy relation with food and the planet cycles.

That means we want to offer a gastronomy of quality and authenticity respecting the freshness in ingredients and rejecting non authentic ingredients or the ones that haven’t respected the season cycle’s or the natural processes of preservation and sustainability. We’re also concerned with preserving the handmade producer by creating economically viable ways to run off his extra production, stimulating him to keep producing that centennial ingredient or that process that has been part of our food habits and behaviors and promotes both a more sustainable consumption pattern as well as a gastronomy with its own identity and elements even if actual in the traditional knowledge.

Being a female in the world of gastronomy, have you encountered any challenges?
Despite the 21st century arrival, women still face equality challenges in several professional fields and gastronomy is no different. There’s a male predominance in the cooking world – and the food guides and lists for top chefs and restaurants don’t let me lie in what concerns to the low number of female names – but there has been progress and I personally can’t complain.

Is it better to be male or female in this industry?
In any profession in the world being a woman is always an advantage as we have the ability to simultaneously multi-task, a sharp intuition, we’re devoted and we’re less afraid of letting emotions take charge. All primordial concepts to build a gastronomy (or anything with quality).

Do you have advice for young female cooks?
Dream. Striving for a successful career is healthy and desirable, but you have to understand that you’ll be building it daily. I believe that to do real work, no matter the subject or area, you need to renunciate, to give, to have a strong belief that what we’re doing is the most important thing in the world. Any distraction from our focus can be fatal taking you to a world of dazzle and glamour that we’ll make you think that life is going to be just like that. But it won’t.

Which chefs do you admire?
Antonin Carème is in my heart and I highly esteem Elena Arzak (daughter of Juan Mari Arzak).

What does the future hold?  Another restaurant?
Yes, we have other projects in the pipeline until 2016 but RS is unique and it will never be cloned. I have no desire to start opening RS restaurants all over the place. The savory experience that we offer is particular to that place specifically. Therefore I want RS to remain an oasis for people that enjoy the taste, textures, and flavors ritual that we daily offer. But what delights me in cooking is the infinite possibilities we have and that, for a cook like me that loves what she does, allow us to present all the versatility of what we are able to create with our hands and fire. As such, we’ve been working in formats that preserve my personal way to face food and at the same time allows for other approaches.

 

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(Best Of Year 1) Last Night The James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour (The World) Descended Upon Sarasota, Florida

By Patrick Hieger

(Originally published on 12.12.13)

Sarasota, Florida might be the last place you’d expect to find acclaimed chefs that hail from Greece, Peru, Mexico and beyond cooking a one-night only James Beard-sponsored dinner, but that’s just what took place at Peruvian chef Darwin Santa Maria’s Darwin’s on 4th last night.  The southeast leg of the 2013 series of James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour dinners that brings together noted chefs from around the country for 5-course, one-night only dinners, last night’s dinner was a celebration of Latin Cuisine, as interpreted by chefs with backgrounds from around the world.  Chefs Anthony Lamas, Steve Phelps, Steven Meese, Diego Oka and, the owner himself, Darwin Santa Maria, took diners on 5-course trip through a variety of flavors, techniques, and inspiration.

[photo: Como Sur]

[photo: Como Sur]

Regardless of whether or not you’d expect a town on the northwest coast of Florida to be home to a Peruvian pioneer who’s been winning the hearts of diners for several years now, the dining room at Darwin’s on 4th was full of 160 eager diners ready to taste what the collective group of chefs had to offer.  The evening began with passed appetizers, ranging from Steve Phelps’ pork belly on blinis with jalapeño jam, Anthony Lamas’ lamb meatballs with arbol chile, and Diego Oka’s skirt steak tataki with ají amarillo ponzu.  Guests also had the chance to enjoy the eleven varieties of Andean-inspired beers that Darwin’s produces, which will soon form the foundation for his forthcoming brewery.

Widely different in their approaches, each chef still managed to bring a complimentary element to the meal, highlighting the work each does at their respective restaurants.  Louisville, Kentucy’s Seviche chef Anthony Lamas’ ceviche was far from traditional, taken apart and splayed neatly against one edge of the plate.  Marinated apples were placed atop the diced salmon and paired with celery greens and an ají amarillo sauce.  It was ceviche at its best, laced with acid, a variety of textures and, ultimately, bold flavors.

[photo: Como Sur]

[photo: Como Sur]

A native Floridian, Steve Phelps, of Indigenous in Sarasota,  roasted Mote Farm sturgeon and paired it with its caviar, all placed atop a warm “puff” of spinach bathed in hollandaise.  It was a seductive version of eggs florentine, paired deftly with perfectly roasted sturgeon.

[photo: Como Sur]

[photo: Como Sur]

Steven Meese, host of the PBS series A Chef’s Journey, took control of the first meat course, roasted Muscovy duck breast paired with a roasted poblano polenta and cherry gastrique.  For a chef whose restaurant is named Agora and whose background is almost entirely Greek, his approach to Latin flavors was skillful, and in no way overpowering.

[photo: Como Sur]

[photo: Como Sur]

The two Peruvians came last.  Diego Oka, who next month will open the Miami location of Gastón Acurio’s famed La Mar cevichería at the Mandarin Oriental, went all in on Peruvian flavors.  Octopus marinated in anticucho sauce, charred over open flame.  Peruvian black olive sauce, chimichurri and a potato puree laced with ají amarillo rounded out the dish.  It was as beautiful to look at as it was to taste.

[photo: Como Sur]

[photo: Como Sur]

Darwin Santa Maria finished out the evening with one last main, and a dessert.  What makes his approach to Peruvian cuisine so appealing is that you’re not immediately overwhelmed by the idea that it’s Peruvian.  His macadamia-crusted rack of Andean lamb would have been as at home in a French restaurant, but a demi-glace of ají panka brought it back to his roots.  Classic, but not at all.  Dessert, too–a bread pudding of cacao served with a camote and goat cheese ice cream–offered subtle touches of South America, but still felt familiar.

[photo: Como Sur]

[photo: Como Sur]

Diners left smiling.  Laughing.  Blown away.  Dinners like these are what dining is all about.  The best that a group of chefs can offer on a given night to a room packed full of patrons, and conversation, and eager palates.  Big, bold flavors, without all the pomp and circumstance and stuffiness of fine dining.  At a Peruvian restaurant.

[photo: Como Sur]

[photo: Como Sur]

Darwin’s on 4th may be the unassuming corner bistro in the historic district of Sarasota, Florida, but make no mistake, he’s changing how Americans eat.  His forthcoming brewery will feature flavors like the Ayawasca Strong Ale, the Summadaze IPA, and a host of other Peruvian-infused brews that will certainly cause a good deal of freaking out once they hit the open market.  And did I mention that his former sous chef is now one of two executive sous chefs at Boragó in Santiago, Chile?  Keep your ears peeled for each and every one of these chefs.  American.  Latin.  Peruvian.  Greek.  The world got a little smaller last night.