Recently, Chef Adolfo Garcia was interviewed by Emmanuel Laroche, Symrise’s Vice President, Marketing & Consumer Insights, Global Marketing Leader, to
uncover the insights that Garcia uniquely brings to understanding the diverse Latino cuisine and its impact on the food and beverage industry. As an owner and chef of awarding-winning restaurants in New Orleans, Chef Adolfo has brought a new level to traditional Creole specialties by imparting these with a creative Latino touch that relies on his Panamanian heritage. La Boca, a Mano and Gusto are favorite dining places for locals who have a myriad of excellent restaurants to choose from but who return to Adolfo’s haunts over and over again.
Chef Garcia’s restaurants are also very well known as “must eat there” spots for travelers who are looking for an exceptional culinary experience.
Adolfo, can you tell us how your heritage influences your cuisine?
I was born in New Orleans of Panamanian parents and we returned to live in Panama when I was 12, living there until I was 16 years old. These were strong formative years and I recognize their influence in terms of how I see the world. In those days, there was a stronger focus on the home as a source of sustenance. Dining out was rare and in our home, we ate Latino foods every day, comfort foods, staples such as rice and beans, pork, plantains, tortillas and empanadas, etc. Although some of these foods are associated with other Latin American countries, the Panamanian versions of these were mild and gently seasoned. The simple meals I enjoyed as a youngster continue to influence my food preferences.
How strongly do you feel connected to your country or heritage? And why do you think that is?
For people of all nationalities, what we enjoyed eating as children conjures memories of family. Home cooked meals that we ate daily and holiday meal specialties have led to the strong bond I have today with Panama and Panamanian cuisine. It’s important for me to respect the traditions, respect the people through the ingredients they used and the dishes they served. I try to preserve this legacy and
pass along this heritage through the food that I offer to my customers.
What holiday meal specialties do you remember with the most fondness?
Holidays meant a focus on foods that took longer to prepare and had more costly ingredients. I remember delicious tamales filled with all kinds of ingredients – these were a Christmas tradition. To a great extent they resembled the tamales that are prepared in the southern part of the United States. I also have fond associations with Coconut Rice, rice prepared with coconut milk rather than water, imparting a sweeter and more exotic taste. This is an example of the Caribbean tastes that you find in most Panamanian cuisine. Many of these wonderful main and side dishes are growing in popularity here in the States. For example, carimañola, a fried yucca roll, where the yucca is boiled, ground into a paste and rolled into a safrita, then stuffed with meat and fried are popular in Panama and in Colombia and they are gaining more and more recognition. In Miami, they are shaped like little cigars and are sold at street food stands where they are called Yuca Croquetta. The connection between the foods of Panama and Colombia is, that unlike countries like Mexico and Peru, there is no legacy that can be traced to ancient Aztec and Inca civilizations, where food was prepared and passed on from generation to generation.
Follow Chef Adolfo on Twitter: @ChefAdolfo
Check out Chef Adolfo's restaurant at http://labocasteaks.com
Check back next week on in-sight for part 2 of Emmanuel's interview with Chef Garcia!