Continuing with Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15 - 10/15) on in-sight. Today's feature is the third and final part of a three part interview with the master of contemporary Mexican Cuisine, Chef Roberto Santibañez.
Recently, Symrise NA VP of Marketing, Emmanuel Laroche spoke with Roberto to get his take on everything from how his heritage influences his cuisine to which types of ingredients he prefers. The following is part one of a three part interview with Chef Roberto. In this part of the interview, Mexican Chef Roberto Santibañez speaks about his Latino heritage, the tortilla, flavor, soup, Italian Food, Latin Food and more!
In today's post, Chef Roberto speaks about cuisine from beyond Mexico. He'll go into detail about Latin ingredients from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Peru, and more. From the fruits to the chile, Chef Roberto dives deep into Latin flavors in today's post.
For Chef Roberto its all about flavor, the chili pepper, and the right amount of spicy.
Chef Roberto Santibañez is the chef and owner of two New York restaurants: La Botaneria in Park Slope, Brooklyn; and Fonda Manhattan. The teacher, author and award winning chef was raised in Mexico City and trained in Paris at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. He went on to serve as Executive Chef at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, Texas, and was named “Best Chef” by the Austin Chronicle while also earning Five Stars from the Austin American- Statesman. Zagat has cited expertise as living up to the “gold standard for upscale Mexican dining.”
What new trends are you seeing in Latin flavors and ingredients?
I think people are using more chilies – and they are also picking up on those flavors that are added to beans and to rice – you see variations. I think it’s more about technique, like the flavors in Peruvian cooking which I find super exciting, real, tart, particular chilies that give you that punch. I think that Americans love spicy foods. Many people don’t know it but they are to become passionately addicted
to spicy foods.
In addition to Peruvian cuisine are there any other Latin cuisines that are having an influence?
You see Salvadorian and Ecuadorian – people claiming there are huge differences in these. I definitely see an enormous influence in Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisine and from the Islands. What I see are smaller parameters in the flavor profiles of these cuisines. They are more limited when compared to Peruvian and Mexican cuisine. The flavor profiles are what really give the characteristics and familiarization.
Why specifically do you see this?
Well, in Mexico, it’s the variety of chilies, and the fresh produce that we depend on. Most of our cuisine is based on sauces so we turn to tomatillos, onions, garlic. But the onions we use are more pungent, more flavorful, and this dryness found in the chilies we use, they are chilies that deliver umami. Island cultures simply don’t have this array of ingredients – they’re not found in those countries so they are
not used. Besides, they don’t like them, they didn’t grow up with them – they simply don’t have them. Fried plantains, a lot of tuberous plants, potatoes and malagas – but all these are going to be flat and boring, especially if you don’t do something with them.
Is it the pure size of Mexico that contributes to this diverse and vast range when compared to Island countries that are much smaller and more poverty based?
Of course these factors come into play. But it all has to do with the availability of ingredients. Look, Peru is a small country too, but it’s geography provides a variety of ingredients. I’ve been to Puerto Rico and have been taken around the country, been to the mountain areas that are fantastic. Although it’s a diverse geography, they just do not cultivate the ingredients that can make the difference. So, it’s not size as much the as it is the lack of availability of key ingredients.
Do you believe that in Mexico and Peru the legacy of ancient cultures, like the Incas and the Aztecs makes a difference?
It’s the geography and the climates of these countries and of course, their legacies that have been passed on through generations – communicating how to use these ingredients and transform them into something that is better. It’s thousands of years of use.
Can you identify specific trends in foods or ingredients from Peru or Brazil that will take off in the U.S. market?
I think tamarind has to be better understood. It’s an incredible ingredient that is now so available in the United States. It’s just not used very much, this ‘brown thing’ is not understood, and I cannot understand that because there are so many things you can do with it. I love the flavor in tamarind, and use it in a lot of chilies. If you taste the chilies arancho, you will recognize immediately a sour tartness. These chilies in particular are ripened fruit that have a bit of everything, including vitamin C, the acidity, the fruitiness – so they are easy to combine with other things. I think most people like this tartness. Even the French add vinegar and mustard to brighten up foods.
In addition to tamarind and ancho chile, can you name sweet ingredients that may become more popular in the States?
Well, fruits are so popular in Mexico, sapores, mangoes and guavas. I have a French friend who said he moved to Mexico for mamey sapote fruit, so delicious, so creamy and soft, when they are grown in Mexico. Guanabana is having a slow time getting introduced and it’s one of the most amazing fruit flavors on earth. When Americans try it these fruits and sample true Mexican cuisine like what you enjoy in Mexico City, they will adore it.