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Exploring Latin American Cuisine

Yup, we’re hot into the menu trail these days. We did talk about Technomic’s advice to go for the sauces yesterday. And it wasn’t very long ago that we talked about Mediterranean cuisine and how it is slowly paving its way to the hearts of American diners. Now, we shall talk about how noted chefs (and yes Technomic, too—they saw the market’s need for authenticity and innovation) are encouraging restaurants to explore yet another of the hottest menu growth trends in the industry, the Latin American cuisine.

The Culinary Institute of America hosted early this month the fourth of an annual series of international, invitational conference called “Latin Flavors, American Kitchen.” The program series, which was held at the CIA’S new campus in San Antonio, Texas, highlighted the global heritage of Latin cuisine, its future in American menus, and the advancement of Latin American culinary professionals.

Rice and BeansThis year, foodservice leaders, corporate chefs and connoisseurs of Latin American cooking gathered once again to explore the potential and opportunities presented by Latin American flavors and foods. Distinguished chefs in their quality chef coats shared their ideas and dispensed advices on today’s Latin ingredients, dishes or trends, and how these could lead to innovation.

Chef Robert del Grande of RDG Bar Annie in Houston, Texas encouraged other chefs to make the most of the adobo flavor. Adobo is a widely used Latin American seasoning, sauce or marinade that makes use of paprika, oregano, garlic, salt and vinegar. “Adobos are pretty much talked about, but still under-utilized among the majority. This flavor has a lot of potential for variations, once explored,” he said.

Rice and beans got their own share of the limelight, as Chef Roberto Santibañez of Brooklyn, New York’s Fonda drew attention to it. As he said, “these two ingredients are present in menus all over the country, but there’s so much more that chefs can do to enhance its flavor. There are also a lot of culinary techniques that can be used to prepare these.”

Chef Dean Fearing from Fearing’s Restaurant in Dallas also emphasized the importance of chili peppers. “Be it dried, ancho, guajillo or chipotle, chili makes a big difference in creating innovative Latin American dishes,” he expressed.

CevicheCeviches and moles are increasingly becoming popular, too, said Chef Rick Bayless of Chicago’s Frontera Grill. Ceviche is a popular dish generally made from fresh uncooked fish, marinated in lemon or lime and spiced with chili peppers. Mole is a widely-used Mexican sauce that is typically prepared using two or more types of chili pepper, cumin, cloves, tomatoes, anise, garlic, dried fruit and sesame seeds, among many others. “There are the easy ones, and there are the difficult ones. Ceviches, we can say, are easy ones—satisfying, light, and infinitely flexible. Chefs in their superior chef coats just need to have access to quality, fresh fish. Moles, on the other hand, are difficult. But I think people are already set to hear more about this sauce…they actually come to Frontrera to have it. Only a few chefs know how to cook up a real good mole, but it’s the heart and soul of Mexican cuisine,” Chef Bayless explained.

MoleThis information can very well help out restaurants who seek for fresh, customized and signature ethnic flavors that consumers seek. Technomic director Kevin Higar did say that consumers are now looking for such things—food that they can’t imitate at home—as well as ethnic flavors.