American food culture loves its celebrity chefs and pioneers. And so do I, to a large degree. Chefs, like hundreds of other occupations in this country, deserve to be recognized for their hard work and artistry. And I'm ecstatic that larger media platforms exist, allowing chefs and food entrepreneurs to showcase talent and bring foods to new audiences. Especially because those media platforms are becoming increasingly diverse - outside of the traditional realm of magazines and TV including online pubs, social media, YouTube and smart phone applications. More voices. More spotlights.
But it's also gone too far. And this comes from a guy who's a fanboy of Anthony Bourdain and Roy Choi.
I give tons of respect to the everyday chefs competing their way though shows like Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped. But just because you won an episode doesn't mean you should hire a publicist and slather 'celebrity' over the next dozen press releases.
That's just one example of a peaking zeitgeist toward chef self-entitlement which have a number of negative consequences including: enormous, unapproachable egos and constant 'hype' around mundane topics. Which is exactly why it's such a breath of fresh air when I had the chance to interact with some of the largest chefs in Puerto Rico and Latin America at the 2015 Saborea Food Festival in Puerto Rico. Less ego, less hype, more food, more conversation.
You think rare steak in your sushi is unfathomable? They don't care, they want you to try it. You've never heard of Moqueca, a traditional Brazilian seafood stew? They don't care, they want you to have some. It's this focus, this dedication to doing what-they-want how-they-want, regardless of any American precedent, that made their dishes so bold. These are the highlights.
Photos by Geoffrey Kutnick.
Mamaposteao Puerto Rican Fried Rice & Rare Steak Sushi Roll
If you told your friends you were serving them Puerto Rican Fried Rice and Steak, they'd be elated. But if you told the same group of friends that you would be serving them steak sushi, odds are one of them would have a fit. 'That's preposterous! That's absurd! But have you seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi? He wouldn't do anything like that!' Well, Joerick Rivera, a Puerto Rican chef in his mid-20s, doesn't give a F%$&.
Moqueca: Traditional Brazilian Seafood & Okra Stew
Jose Mendin, well-known for his eateries across Miami and San Juan roots, had a chance to lead a cooking seminar with anything he wanted to make. He chose Moqueca, a seafood stew with octopus, scallops, and okra. The base has 3 ingredients: dende oil (similar to a palm oil), onions and garlic. Respect.
Shrimp Corn Fritter with Chorizo & Eggplant Puree + Chicharron
When Chef Efrain Cruz of Hotel Intercontinental rattled off the ingredients in this bite-sized creation, I was floored. Wait, what with what? I ended up with a bite layered with 7 different layers (there's avocado in that too!). I was skeptical, right until the flavor explosion on my tongue.
Seared Yellowfin Tuna With Eggplant Parmesan
You've never tried or wanted to try this pairing? Well, you could here!
Mahé Mahé Empanada
Outside of the festival itself, on a culinary tour led by Spoon Food Tours, we went to a must stop in Old Town San Juan - La Cueva Del Mar. You have to order the fried fish tacos. And then if you still have room, try something new with this empanada. Make sure to try all the sauces.