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Fire and Spice – US Food Trends

30 April 2008

Chefs talk about peppers and other favorite Hispanic ingredients.

This article first appeared in the 15 April 2008 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I,visit its website here >>

Hispanic ingredients are popular in foodservice establishments across all segments. For a snapshot of what's hot on menus, R&I asked foodservice professionals to talk about their must-have Hispanic ingredients.

The result? Chiles draw the most loyalty, though other ingredients, such as agave and longaniza also are on the radar.

Dionicio Jimenez, Chef, Xochitl, Philadelphia

To impart an authentic Mexican taste to his dishes, Jimenez often cooks with agave leaf and pulque, an alcoholic beverage distilled from the American aloe plant. For his Barbarcoa de Borrego, he slow-cooks lamb with pulque and adds an agave leaf on the top to keep the lamb submerged in the pulque.

Robert Ares, Executive Chef, Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield, Ill.

Ares regularly incorporates Caribbean staples such as sweet potatoes, cassava and mangos, into his menus, using a light touch with sauces and a variety of fresh produce. "Cuban cuisine involves a lot of traces of African and Spanish cuisine," he says. "I tend to combine a lot of things … I always like to try something different."

Jean Paul Desmaison, Executive Chef, La Cofradia, Coral Gables, Fla.

"We use limo, a very aromatic Peruvian pepper, in our basic seviche juice, which serves as a base for all of our seviches. We also use spicy yellow peppers, cutting their heat by boiling, peeling, and blending them into a paste. Rocoto [a round, spicy Peruvian pepper] is the spiciest pepper we use. In Peru, they stuff rocoto peppers with meat and raisins, which is where I got the inspiration for our stuffed piquillo peppers. I also like huacatay, a black mint that we use in salads with fresh beans and cheese as well as chupe de camarones, a concentrated shrimp soup."

Carlos Fernandez, Chef-owner, Hi-Life Cafe, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I use peppers all of the time. To me, using different peppers is similar to how French chefs use different salts for seasoning. Jalapeños are, without a doubt, my go-to chiles. We stuff them, wrap them with bacon, and fry them. I like chipotle for a touch of smoke and habaneros for a touch of heat. For habaneros, my favorite thing to do is to incorporate them into a barbecue sauce.

Carmen Gonzalez, Executive Chef, Lucy of Gramercy, New York City

Gonzales uses longaniza and pique peppers. Longaniza is a Puerto Rican sausage that Gonzales browns and then mixes with sweet plantains, green onions and cilantro for a rolled pork loin stuffing. Pique peppers, the unofficial national pepper of Puerto Rico, according to Gonzales, are used in Lucy of Gramercy's dipping sauce served with alcapurrias (Puerto Rican fritters), grated yuca mixed with stewed chicken and fried.

Edwin Mateo, Executive Chef, SolToro Tequila Grill at Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, Conn.

Mateo's most-used item is sofrito, a base in countless Hispanic dishes. "I use it when I make rice, beans, soups and stews. It gives [a dish] the distinct flavor of Latin cuisine." He makes his sofrito with recao, a thin, spiny green herb native to Latin America (also called cilantro) and aji dulce, a small sweet pepper.
John Peters, Executive Chef, Powerhouse, Chicago

"Posole is something that I love making and that I love eating. I finally had the chance to put in on the menu, but I wanted to turn it around a bit [for a plated entrée with slowly grilled pork tenderloin]. I braise pasilla chiles with cabbage, then remove the chiles and purée them with a few raisins for sweetness. We make a ragù with [house-cooked] hominy, roasted poblanos and pickled red onion. It gives a balance to the whole dish. The cabbage is mixed with some puréed pasilla sauce and placed in a little pile on the side. A salad of sliced radishes, cilantro, avocado and lime finishes the plate."

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