When did you start The Latin Kitchen, and how did it happen?
TLK is a property of Latina Media Ventures, the founders of Latina Magazine and Latina.com. While I didn’t come up with the idea, it was something that I saw missing on the web — a one-stop shop for all things Latin food. There’s so much diversity in the Latin food world, from Cuban to Mexican to Peruvian to Spanish and Puerto Rican food. The Latin Kitchen seemed the ideal website, housing all of these amazing cuisines in ONE place.
What did you do before The Latin Kitchen?
I’ve been traveling around the world for the past seven years, and for the past three, I’ve been writing about my experiences (both food and travel) for a host of publications like the Boston Globe, New York Times, Miami Herald, Newsday, and websites like The Daily Meal, Fodor’s, and Conde Nast Traveler. I adore Latin countries — the people, the passion, the food (!) — and write about them frequently. The Latin Kitchen seemed like an obvious next step.
What do you find in common between the different Latin American cuisines and chefs that you are working with?
PASSION. Latin food is passionate and full of life, color and flavor. So are the chefs cooking in Latin kitchens!
How do you think Latin food is influencing the food from this country?
In many ways. Considering that there are over 50 million Latinos living in the U.S. today, and we share a border with Mexico, a massive destination for wonderful ingredients, dishes, chefs, and traditions, I think it’s only natural that Latin food plays a role in shaping American cuisine. These days, chefs of all ethnicities and backgrounds find Latin food and ingredients interesting and are moving into Latin kitchens. The hottest chef working in Mexican food in New York right now is Alex Stupak, a former pastry chef who trained under Chicago legend Grant Achatz. Go figure! Josh Capon, who won the NYC Food & Wine Burger Bash a few years back, is opening a Mexican joint called El Toro Blanco in a few weeks. In Baja, Mexico, an Atlanta-born chef named Drew Deckman is featuring solely Mexican ingredients, wines, and beers on his menus, though he’s cooking European-inspired fare. Latin food is far-reaching, and transcending traditional boundaries, influencing our notion of what Latin cuisine and American cuisine really is.
What do you think of Peruvian food?
I visited Peru in 2005 on a round-the-world trip. I spent about a month in the country, and found the food to be some of the best in the world! I made a pilgrimage to Astrid y Gaston, full of grime and dirt during a layover in Lima (carrying a 70- pound backpack, no less), just to get a taste of where Peruvian food was headed. I can recall my first sip of a true Pisco Sour, when I tasted a classic ceviche made with leche de tigre, and how I became obsessed with purple potatoes. I watched myself grow a bit more round from lomo saltado, and fell hard for anything made with oversized maize. In Peru, ajis (of all shapes, sizes, and colors) became my new best friends. The best part? Ceviche is served with Andean popcorn in Peru! How fantastic!
When I got back to the States, all I wanted to do was replicated the flavors I found in Peru on my plate. But I couldn’t find anything remotely close to what I tasted in Peru; Peruvian food hadn’t yet translated. These days, however, Peruvian food is the food of the moment. The sheer number of restaurants that have sprung up across the country, the influx of pisco brands and pisco cocktails, the replication of Acurio’s La Mar Cebicheria across the country in various cities show that Peruvian food is hot hot hot. Movies like Peru Sabe, which shows the food education of the youth of Peru, festivals like the growing Mistura, and wonderful advocates like Gaston Acurio, Jaime Pesaque, Virgilio Martinez and others, who are fronting for the beauty of their gastronomy, are taking this cuisine to new heights. And rightfully so.
What are your top 3 Latin restaurants in the US right now?
Oh goodness. That’s a HARD HARD HARD QUESTION. There’s too many to choose from. I love Fonda in NYC (and Brooklyn). La Taqueria in San Fran’s Mission District. I can give you about 50 third choices, but I love what Douglas Rodriguez and Wilo Benet do (see cookbooks) at their restaurants in Miami and Puerto Rico. Cisco’s, this great dive in Austin, is THE place for breakfast migas after a long night out hitting Austin’s music scene, and Caracas Arepa bar in NYC is pretty damn good, as well. One more restaurant I LOVE. Sue Torres’ Suenos in NYC.
Your top 3 Latin cookbooks?
Cookbooks? Hmmm. Well, I’m half-Puerto Rican, so I love Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors. I adore Roberto Santibanez’ authenticity, and I think his Truly Mexican hits the mark. He’s doing some of the best Mexican in New York, and I’m looking forward to his upcoming cookbook on tacos, tortas, and tamales this fall. I’m also a fan of Douglas Rodriguez’s Nuevo Latino, which is a lot of classics from his NYC restaurant Patria — an old favorite of mine that I WISH still existed. The cookbook makes me miss the restaurant just a little bit less.