Apr 23

An Elegant Evening at Pinot Brasserie

Sea Scallops

Sea Scallops

Recently my husband and I took a much needed vacation to one of our favorite destinations, Las Vegas.  We decided to stay at The Palazzo and dine between there and the connected sister hotel, The Venetian.  We absolutely adored our stay and while we were there we had some of the best meals of our lives, Pinot Brasserie being one of them.

We decided to stop in for dinner at Pinot Brasserie before catching “O” by Cirque du Soleil at The Bellagio, which was an amazing show in case you were wondering!  My husband had never dined at Pinot Brasserie, but as I had previously lived and worked in downtown Los Angeles, I was quite familiar with the French Bistro from restaurateur Joachim Splichal.  Having a James Beard Foundation award tucked under his belt, among many others, I knew a memorable meal was on the menu.

We decided to start with the appetizer of  Mussels Normande ($18).  This incredibly French dish consists of black mussels simmered in a creamy white wine broth, and served with Pinot garlic fries.  What we received was a hearty kettle full of wine, herbs, garlic goodness and fresh mussels, that was quickly gobbled up by me and my husband.  The garlic fries, in my opinion are a must-have sidekick for this delicious appetizer!

I decided to order the Sea Scallops ($29) for my entree.  The scallops were absolutely cooked perfectly – something I know is a hard feat to accomplish!  They were nice and crisp, with delicate seasoning and had a wonderful melt-in-my-mouth succulence and sweetness to them.  They were accompanied by truffled celeriac, which made for the perfect mate.

My sweet husband, Eric, decided to order the Braised Pork Belly ($33) as his main course.  The braised pork belly is served with onion marmalade, pickled vegetables, and caper berry.  He really enjoyed the pork belly, and found it to be incredibly tender and flavorful.  I enjoyed sneaking bites as much as possible when he wasn’t looking.

To finish the meal we knew we had to go with Chef Splichal’s signature dessert, Croissant Chocolate Pudding with Creme Anglaise ($9).   My husband, a total bread pudding fanatic and connoisseur, loved this version of bread pudding.  The creme Anglaise that came on the side, was a nice touch for adding as much or little as we wanted.  It was rich, decadent and the perfect sweet ending to send us off for the evening!

We left feeling quite full and quite satisfied.  We both enjoyed the cozy and quiet atmosphere of Pinot Brasserie amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy casino. It was a very memorable meal, and it added to the overall magic of that warm Las Vegas night.  If you are in the Venetian and looking for an amazing meal, give Pinot Brasserie a try!

Pinot Brasserie is located @ the Venetian hotel on restaurant row.

Mar 15

Eight Questions with Top Chef Contestant Beverly Kim

Beverly Kim

Beverly Kim

Top Chef Contestant Beverly Kim was a fan fave from the start of season 9. She wowed us with her modernist Asian dishes inspired by her mom and warmed our hearts with her sweet personality. Chef Kim was underrated by several of her fellow chefstestants, but after packing her knives and leaving the competition she returned after her victory in Last Chance Kitchen. Chef Beverly Kim is keeping busy providing the windy city of Chicago with fine dining as Chef de Cuisine at aria.

Chef Beverly Lee took some time out of her busy schedule to talk kimchi, coriander, and Madonna.

(Eric Rankin, Interviewer) What seasonal ingredient are you using a lot of right now at Aria?

(Chef Beverly Kim) Although we are at the end of the season, I’m currently using a variety of radishes: Breakfast, Daikon, Korean and Watermelon.

(ER) Is there a special dish your mother made that inspired your style of cooking?

(BK) Kimchi! In fact, at aria, we use my mother’s original recipe.

(ER) Can you tell us your favorite dish you made in Last Chance Kitchen?

(BK) I am proud of all of my dishes. Each dish was precious for different reasons.

(ER) What is your favorite spice to cook with?

(BK) It is difficult for me to select just one because I love spices. My top two are coriander and cumin.

(ER) Are there any dishes you made in Top Chef challenges that you might make again?

(BK) Absolutely! Many of the dishes inspired me. The short rib dish and coconut broth with snapper are currently on my menu at aria.

(ER) Favorite music to rock out to in the kitchen?

(BK) On occasion, I’ll rock out to Madonna in my kitchen at home.

(ER) If you were to go on a culinary cruise, what three countries would you want to go to?

(BK) In Asia I’d travel to Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. If I were traveling in Europe, I’d want to visit France, Italy and Demark.

(ER) Were you familiar with any of the chef contestants before this season of Top Chef began?

(BK) I knew the restaurants, but I didn’t know any of them personally. Yet, I was one degree away from a few of them.

Jan 26

10 Delicious Questions with Chef Ariane Duarte!

Ariane Duarte

Ariane Duarte

Chef Ariane Duarte was one of our favorite contestants in Top Chef:  Season 5.  Prominent personalites were abundant as Fabio and Stefan represented “Team Euro” and Carla was hooty-hooing left and right.  Chef Ariane seemed to grow from a humble contestant into the New Jersey diva that won several challenges, and stole our foodie hearts.

Today Chef Duarte is living with her family in her native New Jersey and working as Executive Chef/Owner of CulinAriane in Montclaire, NJ.  She took a little time out of her busy to day to answer a few of our burning questions.

1.  What is it like working alongside your husband at your restaurant CulinAriane?

Michael and I have worked side by side for many years. Im not going to say that we havent stepped on each others toes a few times, or that we havent had an “F U” fight once in awhile, but we  both know our strenghts and we do compliment each other when it comes to running the business.

2.  Do you keep in touch with any of your competitors from your season of Top Chef?

I do. I just had dinner with Carla and Ryan. I still talk with Leah and Jamie. Hosea called me for my birthday which was a really nice surprise.

3.  Your menu from CulinAriane is really amazing!  What would you say is the inspiration for the food you create?

Simple and seasonal. I get bored quickly and enjoy experimenting.

4.  What is your favorite protein to work with?

I love lamb and pork and venison is a favorite at the moment.

5.  If you could eat one meal 3 times a day, what would it be – breakfast, lunch, or dinner?

I would eat lunch.

6.  What is a restaurant you want to eat at on your day off?

On my day off I tend to stay home with the family. Our girls enjoy family dinners at home.

7.  What is the one kitchen item/gadget you cannot live without?

Gosh.  I would say my knives. I take care of a majority of the butchering so  a good knife is important!

8.  The best thing you ever ate?

That’s tough.

9.  Have you ever considered writing your own cookbook?

I am considering it now. I think it is time.

10.  How has Top Chef impacted your life? Would you do it again?

Top Chef has had a wonderful impact on my life and business and it has helped me grow as a chef. Not 100 percent sure if i would do it agian, but I would consider it.

Dec 29

A Charming Interview with Chef Susan Feniger

Susan Feniger

Susan Feniger

Chef Susan Feniger loves what she does, and it shows the second you taste her food, or talk to her about food.  From collaborating on restaurants and food ventures with Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill, CITY, Ciudad, Two Hot Tamales) to opening her very own restaurant,STREET, which luckily we had the pleasure of dining at and recently reviewed – here.  She seems to enjoy every ingredient of the culinary world, and that includes having a delicious telephone interview with me from her home in Los Angeles.

(Eric Rankin, Interviewer) Right now you can travel anywhere in the world with the snap of your fingers, where would you go and what would you eat?

(Chef Susan Feniger) I’m sort of a creature of habit… which isn’t good.  I will give two cases.  India is probably where my heart is.  I love every aspect of it.  In Delhi or I should really say Rajgurunagar (outside of Pune) visiting my friend, Allen, and cooking with him and having Chai, probably eating some sort of Bhujia, a kind of potato fritter at a little Chai stand out in a tiny little marketplace in Rajgurunagar.  There’s a million places I would love to explore and go to…. like Malaysia, I’ve never been to Malaysia.  Haha, let’s keep it India.

(ER)  Is there a certain kind of music you rock out to when you’re cooking?

(SF)  My taste in music is so all over the place.  I would typically put in 6 different CDs and it would range from Mozart or listen to Brandenburg concertos or something like that, Annie Lennox, Bill Evans, Pink Martini, and Abigail Washington who is this sort of an amazing singer.  Eva Cassidy as well.

One of my most favorite things to do at home is listening to music and cooking and having a cocktail or a glass of wine.  There’s not much more of a relaxing moment for me than that.  I love that! 

(ER)  We’re Kaya Toast fanatics; is there another hang-over food you recommend for us lushes?

(SF)  Obviously, in the Latin kitchen there is Menudo which is the traditional hangover cure, which you know is tripe.  I personally love a big huge bowl of Pozole which is a great hangover dish – Green pozole.  It’s like Menudo… a big stew.  Chilaquiles is another great one that people often think of as a hangover thing.  Myself personally – I like to go late at night and have fried chicken, I’m not really a big fan of chicken and waffles.  I love fried chicken with grits and hot sauce.

(ER)  What was the experience like being on Top Chef Masters?

(SF)  I really had no interest in doing it. None.  I said no the first year.  I said no the second year.  It was right after we had opened Street so I was completely exhausted and everyone at Border Grill and Street kept saying you have to go do the show… you just have to go and do it.  So I literally thought  “Well shit!”.

So I dug in since it’s for a great cause.  I played for The Scleroderma Research Foundation which is an organization I have been on the board with for the last 25 years.  I lost one of my oldest, closest friends to this disease and she started this organization 25 years ago and I have been on the board ever since.  Mary Sue and I do this event called Cool Comedy – Hot Cuisine and I felt that if I go on national TV that we have made great steps to get it out there.  What was I thinking?  How can I get out of this?

I didn’t care about winning, I just didn’t want to lose in the first round.  Once I made it through round 1, I was like okay… this is fun.  When I got on the show, Govind Armstrong was in my first group and he is someone who has worked for us many, many, many years ago.  And I met Tony Mantuano who I had never met that I just loved.  That was incredible to have Tony there.  We totally hit it off!  And Tony and I went on to the finals.  Then there was jonathan Waxman who I have known forever and loved and Jody Adams who I’ve known forever and hadn’t seen.  And there was Rick Moonen… people who I knew.  People I didn’t know at all like Susur Lee and Marcus Samuelsson.  It was one of those things where once I made it through that first round then I really just thought it’s just about having fun, relaxing, getting Scleroderma out there.  So it ended up being a great thing.  I won a bunch of money for Scleroderma research and it ended up being a great experience and I just went and did an event for Jonathan and Tony was there and we had dinner together.  I did an event with Tony back for the US Open which was fantastic and fun to do.  So you know, like the restaurant business what it does is just build a incredible comraderie…. at least it did for me.  I actually had a fantastic time on it.

(ER)  I hear a sitcom is in the works?  L.A., the 80’s, “Two Hot Tamales”… can you give us any scoop on that?

When Food Network first started Mary Sue and I had a show called “Two Hot Tamales” and we had that show for 4 and half years I think.  Mary Sue and I have been partners for 30 years and we were approached by Michael Eisner a couple years ago… he was doing a book on partnerships (Working Together)  and we were included in that book.  In that book there was very impressive partnerships like Bill and Melinda Gates, Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, and Mary Sue and I.  There was 10 chapters and we were one of the ten chapters….so it was really incredible company.

About six months ago we got approached by his production group saying they wanted to do a sitcom based on mine and Mary Sue’s life.  And it’s of two friends that are business partners, chefs in a man’s world.  One straight (Mary Sue), one gay (Me), and who were at one point married to the same man.  So I introduced Mary Sue to my ex-husband.  When I first met Mary Sue I said to her you would love this guy, you have to meet him.  So 5 or 6 years later she did and they have been together.  Ever since… like 25 years.  So that is what the story is base on.

ABC has bought it… at least to do the pilot.  So Jeff Greenstein is the show runner, he is writing the pilot now.  We’ll see if it goes anywhere!

(ER)  Thank you so much!

And with that we ended our call.  Susan Feniger was hospitable, friendly, and after only a few minutes I felt like I was talking with an old friend.  That’s the great thing about her food as well – it has all those welcoming qualities, and warms not only the belly, but also the heart.

Dec 14

Eat Your Heart Out at Susan Feniger’s STREET

Susan Feniger

Susan Feniger

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, a group of friends and I stopped in at Susan Feniger’s STREET to check out the multi-ethnic eatery of “street food” located in Hollywood, California.  Having lived in Los Angeles for many years, this is where I first began to appreciate diverse food culture, via the sheer variety of this foodie city.  This restaurant is the first solo project of Susan Feniger, and offers a variety of interesting small plates, that I believe are meant to be shared among friends.

As there were five of us on this dining occasion, we ordered a variety of dishes. Let’s start with my favorite appetizer of the day – the Kaya Toast ($12).  It is described as a uniquely STREET experience; toasted bread spread thick with coconut jam; served with a soft fried egg drizzled in dark soy and white pepper.  It was amazing.  I could have ate 10 of these plates.  The soft fried egg, with the sweet coconut jam and the salty soy all mingled in a very harmonious culmination.

We also started with an order of Lamb Kafta Meatballs ($11).  This was another rave hit at the table and they are described as lamb meatballs over warm Syrian cheese wrapped in grape leaf and drizzled with date and carob molasses; served with za’atar spiced flatbread.  The wonderful thing about STREET is that flavors are bursting all over the place and the palate’s every whim, from sweet to savory, can typically be satisfied in one dish.  Complex flavors that are big and bold are all over the place.

My friend, Crazy Jay, decided to order the Brioche Burger ($13).  Yes, it is a $13 hamburger but it is so worth it.  For me, I believe the best burgers are served on Brioche buns.  The eggy and buttery goodness of Brioche is the perfect vessel for a nice juicy cut of beef.  Their burger is made with all natural angus beef, Vermont white cheddar, homemade pickles, and served with a yuzu kosho mayonnaise.  Everyone raved about how amazingly juicy the burger was.

My dear friend Amanda (who is a Jeopary champion — seriously) ordered the Sag Paneer & Dal ($13).  This South Indian spinach dish is stewed with homemade paneer cheese, tomato and spices; served with masoor dal and mustard seed raita.  Again, all the flavors were spot on, and as Amanda is a vegetarian, she was happy for the vegetarian-friendly options on the menu.

I ordered the Tatsutage Fried Chicken ($15).  This was not your everyday-run-of-the-mill fried chicken.  Oh no.  I think it was the batter that truly set it apart.  It reminded me of the batter you would find on a really well executed fish and chips.  The chicken is first marinated with soy, mirin, and sake, then crispy fried in rice batter and topped with spicy kewpie mayonnaise sauce.  It was served with big pieces of ginger, which was perfect for palate cleansing.

Overall, we as a group were very pleased with STREET.  Another great thing about STREET is the cocktails.  I was loving the Tamarind Ginger Cooler made with homemade ginger syrup, and my husband loved the Sanbitter Sunburst which contains lemonade of Italian aperitif bitters and citrus juices.  It is a great place to casually dine with friends, share plates of interesting food, and sip on lovely cocktails.  Now that is saying a lot for Hollywood!

Susan Feniger’s STREET is located @ 742 N. Highland Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90038

Dec 13

A Toothsome Interview With Chef Kevin Gillespie

Kevin Gillespie

Kevin Gillespie

Chef Kevin Gillespie, fan favorite of Top Chef: Season 6, took some time out of his busy day to answer some our burning culinary questions.  Chef Gillespie is the Executive Chef/Co-Owner at the Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, and his Southern boy hospitality allowed us a peek into the future of this TopScallop’s favorite.

(Eric Rankin, Interviewer) Do you keep in touch with Eli Kirshtein or any of the other Top Chef alumni?

(Chef Kevin Gillespie) Yes, I talk to Eli frequently and I keep in touch with Michael and Bryan Voltaggio and Jennifer Carroll.

(ER) Is there one person who inspired you to be a chef?

(KG) Well, there are a couple of different avenues that inspired me. First, I learned to cook from my Granny. Professionally, it happened when I read the French Laundry cookbook. That solidified in my mind that I wanted to cook professionally and that serving food was my passion.

(ER) What is your overall favorite part of the pig? 

(KG) It’s really hard to say. I guess if I had to pick, I’d say the trotters. This isn’t the most used or versatile, but it has awesome flavor.

(ER) How would you compare your experiences cooking on the West Coast as opposed to the East Coast? (Fife Restaurant in Portland, OR and Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, GA)

(KG) The west coast is more cognizant of the quality of raw ingredients. They really want to know that it was purchased from someone local. But they are also less welcoming to food traditions from other places, like the food I grew up with.

(ER) Do you use any unconventional tools in the kitchen that you can’t live without?

(KG) We rely on a woodfired grill and oven. It’s not really unconventional but others don’t use this. We create dishes that require them.

(ER) Would you do another reality show?

(KG) It’s unlikely unless it was for a particular reason or cause.

(ER) Is there any special music you rock out to while you cook?

(KG) We have a rotating playlist in our kitchen – everyone gets a say-so in it. I will say that we have our favorites. Whenever Hall & Oates is on, no one complains.

(ER) Did the Top Chef producers ask you to rub your beard in the Top Chef:  Season 6 Intro or did you improvise that? 

(KG) Yes, they asked me to do that.

(ER) If given the choice, what would your final meal be before you die?

(KG) BBQ!

(ER) Executive Chef/Owner of your own successful restaurant, Finalist in Top Chef, and one of TopScallops.com’s favorite chefs ever – all by the age of 29.  What is there left to do?

(KG) My first cookbook, Fire in My Belly, is coming out in Fall 2012 and then I’m doing another one after that. I’d love to do more TV and open more restaurants. I’d pretty much like to model my life after Richard Branson.

… and with that we look forward to the release of his upcoming book, and one day making the journey to Atlanta to feast upon the delicious work of Chef Gillespie.

Jul 09

Chef Bio: Susur Lee

Susur Lee

Susur Lee

Susur Lee, who was born in 1958 in Hong Kong, works out of Toronto in Canada.  He first worked in the Peninsula Hotel, which is located in Hong Kong, and he has 5 siblings.  After emigrating to Canada in 1978, he worked at several restaurants. He now owns two — Lee, and Lee Lounge.  These two eateries are side by side.  Chef Lee has a commanding presence and is seen in many TV appearance, both on Bravo and The Food Network.

During 2008 he started Shang, which is within the Thompson Hotel in NYC.  During 2009, Zentan was “born” in the Donovan House in D.C.  Lee’s eclectic style is referred to as fusion cuisine, which become a popular food style.  Chef Lee’s Susur opened during 2000, with help from his second wife, Brenda.  Tragically, Lee’s first wife died during the 1983 disaster involving Korean Air 007.  Through the tragedy, he has managed to create wonderful and inspiring dishes showcased in restaurants around the globe.

Lee is acknowledged by Food & Wine, as well as Gourmet Restaurant, which is a UK magazine.  He’s been on several Top Restaurant lists, and on Restaurant World’s well known list — 50 Best Restaurants.  Chef Lee gets daily inspirations and his tasting menu from fresh market offerings which he overseas himself.  Lee battled Iron Chef Flay during 2006.  He was also a guest celebrity on East Meets West, which aired on the well-known Food Network.

Lee was a top runner-up on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and early on in the competition, his dish of farce curry, chicken, grits and polenta, chili mint chutney, and tomato jam earned raves from The Modern Family crew and cast.  The actors and crew had a hand in voting, and this was part of Lee’s score and helped in advancing him in the competition.  Chef Lee calls Toronto his base, while visiting his restaurants overseas.

Jul 09

Chef Bio: Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia during 1970 and was named at birth, Kassahun Tsegie.  He is from Sweden and co-owns C-House restaurant (located in Affinia Hotel — Chicago), as well as the Aquavit Restaurant — NYC.  His mom died when he was three and chef Samuelsson and his sister were adopted by a couple in Sweden.  Chef has another adopted sister and Samuelsson’s biological father, along with  8 half siblings, is a priest living in the same Ethiopian village that chef Samuelson was born in.

Chef Samuelsson’s grandmother in Sweden got him interested in cooking, and he studied at the culinary institute located in Gothenburg.  After being an apprentice in Austria and Switzerland, he journeyed to the U.S. in 1991 and then apprenticed at Aquavit.  He was an executive chef there by age 24, and was the youngest chef ever to get a 3 star review from the NY Times.  The prestigious James Beard Foundation named him Best Chef in NYC in 2003.

Also during 2003, Chef Samuelsson created Riingo in NYC and it had a menu featuring Japanese influenced American food.  He has published several cookbooks in Swedish and English.  The Soul of a  New Cuisine was out in 2006 and it featured African-inspired dishes.  It won the James Beard Foundation award for the Best Intl. Cookbook.  His other books are Street Food and A Journey of Tastes.

Chef Samuelsson is a visiting professor  at Umea University (culinary arts), which is in Sweden.  His TV show Inner Chef, was on the Discovery Channel in 2005, and he also had Urban Cuisine on BET & J/Centric in 2008. His food reflects influences from the international community, as well as those from Japan, Sweden and Africa in particular.

Chef Samuelsson is married to a model, Gate Maya Haile.  He was a guest chef at the White House in 2009 and used fresh vegetables from the White House garden in a mainly vegetarian and sustainable product menu.  He created roasted potato dumplings, green curried prawns, and red lentil soup.

Chef Samuelsson has been on many TV shows such as Chopped, Iron Chef, Top Chef, the Today Show, and he’s appeared on CNN, The Dylan Ratigan Show, and MSNBC.  He recently won on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.

Jun 20

From Dumplings to Wontons it’s All About Chinese Cuisine!

Savory soup with duck breast

Savory soup with duck breast

Chinese cuisine is not only a type of food found within mainland China, but nearly every global culture has adapted this cuisine to their local food preferences. From Paris to Sydney, you will find Chinese cuisine in virtually every neighborhood, merging Chinese cooking techniques with local ingredients. As with the history of China, the cuisine of this region is steeped in an impressive amount of history and tradition. The origin of Chinese food is unique, with the development of this culinary style as old as the use of fire to cook foods. For this reason, the roots of Chinese cuisine can be traced to over 400,000 years ago. With this impressive heritage, a number of sub regional styles have developed.

While the variations of Chinese cuisine are immense, two ancient foods serve as the foundation of Chinese food. Rice and noodles are almost always served during a Chinese meal within the nation, acting as the common bond of all Chinese meals. While western cultures initially relied on using hands to eat food, the Chinese were quick to introduce Chopsticks to the act of eating. With roots stretching back to the Zhou Dynasty (1,000 B.C.), chopsticks are considered the first food utensils.

Boiled Chinese Dumplings

Boiled Chinese Dumplings

Chinese cuisine can be categorized by the geographical and cultural identities of the country. In the south of the country, the climate allows for rice production, making this food staple a major influence over most southern dishes. In the colder northern part of China, wheat dominates. This distinction is responsible for the invention of noodles. But the divisions of Chinese cuisine do not stop and start with the North/South divide. Chinese food is often divided into four major classes of cuisines; the Lu, Yang, Chuan and Yue divisions compose the Traditional Four Schools of Chinese cuisine.

Like many Chinese traditions, there are a number of legendary Chinese chefs. During the Shang dynasty, a chef named Yi Yin was known as the Sage of Cooks, serving the emperor while creating many Chinese culinary innovations. The Chinese tradition also created a rather famous chef/witch. Yi Ya, was a well-known Chinese chef during the Spring and Autumn period who created many innovations in terms of frying, brewing, roasting, broiling and flavoring Chinese foods. Women played a central role in the development of Chinese cuisine, with Shan Zu being a prime example. As a Tang Dynasty chef, Shan Zu is best known as the author of the culinary text “You Yang Za Zu”.

Crisp Wontons

Crisp Wontons

As perhaps the oldest known global cuisine, Chinese food is certainly a modern marvel. With a diverse set of cooking techniques and ingredients, spanning the major cities and regions of this vast country, you could spend decades learning the complexities of the regional cuisine. Global cuisines have adapted the style and ingredients of Chinese cooking, with Chinese themed restaurants commonly found in both large cities and small villages around the globe. For this reason, Chinese cuisine is perhaps the most impressive of all global cuisines.

Jun 16

The Spicy & Enticing World of Mexican Cuisine!

Fresh Tacos

Fresh Tacos

Mexican cuisine, known for its bold tastes and attractive colors, is a regional cuisine with both modern and ancient traditions. While many world cultures lacked ingredients commonly used today due to the unknown New World, Mexican cuisine has a rich tradition when it comes to using modern food staples such as corn and tomatoes. Since these two foods are native to the New World, Mexican cuisine is the only global cuisine which has ancestral dishes using tomato and corn. From the ancient Aztecs to modern day recipes, the sheer size and scope of the regions food practices has elevated Mexican cuisine to international fame.

The origins of Mexican cuisine can be traced to early American cultures as far back as 2,000 years. However, the cooking techniques of modern Mexican cuisine are best described through the influence of their Aztec ancestors. During the height of the Aztec civilization (14th century to the 16th century), many local fruits and vegetables were used to feed a rapidly growing population. Among the common ingredients used during Aztec times include chocolate, vanilla, avocado, papaya, pineapple, jicama, potato, corn and peanuts. The New World contained a vast number of delicious and nutritious natural foods, and the Aztecs took advantage of this bounty. With the arrival of Europeans throughout the Mexican region, many new food staples were introduced including olive oil, cattle, chickens, sheep, wine, wheat, rice and spices. In addition to ingredients, the Europeans brought cooking techniques as well as language and science. With both native and European influences, modern day Mexican cuisine was born.

Tortilla Soup with Cheese, Lime, and Cilantro

Tortilla Soup with Cheese, Lime, and Cilantro

While the global opinion of Mexican cuisine reflects a single culture, there are many sub regional cuisines associated with this North American country. The regional cuisines of Mexico were developed due to the climate variations of the country as well as European influences. In general, there are six regions of Mexican cuisine. On the Yucatan peninsula, foods tend to be sweet and often include the achiote seasoning. Originating from southeast Asia and introduced by Europeans, the achiote tree produces a bright red spiny fruit which is dried into a dark brown powder. The Oaxacan region is best known for its savory tamales. The Jalisco region, situated in the mountains of Mexico, is known for its famed goat birria, a goat dish that is served with a spicy tomato sauce. Central Mexico seems to take influence from all regions of the country, with specialties including barbacoa and carnitas. Southeastern Mexico is known for its spicy flavorings of vegetables and chicken. Within the pacific region of Mexico, Caribbean influences dominate the cuisine, with fish cookery being a staple technique of the local culture.

Sweet & spicy mango salsa

Sweet & spicy mango salsa

Chocolate is perhaps the most important ingredient when it comes to the development of Mexican cuisine. The Aztecs and Mayans considered chocolate sacred and used cacao seeds in many religious rituals. A chocolate inspired drink, called xocoatl, was flavored with vanilla, chili pepper and achiote and consumed on a regular basis. Chocolate, being a rare commodity, was used as currency within Mexico during pre-Columbian times. In modern Mexican cuisine, chocolate is a main ingredients in many mole dishes.

Like many global food cultures, Mexican cuisine did not develop at the hands of famed chefs but instead was derived from local communities. The greatest advances in the techniques of Mexican cuisine were created in Pueblos (villages). Here, families were known to create the exotic dishes we enjoy today such as guacamole and salsa. Wild game was widely consumed in pueblos, with iguana, rattlesnake, deer, spider monkey and insects being popular foods. Due to the popularity of Mexican cuisine over the past two decades, a number of modern chefs have become famous for showcasing the flavors of Mexico. Some modern chefs include Rick Bayless, Aaron Sanchez and Ana Garcia.

Mexico has a vast number of great restaurants which will not break the bank. Metropolitan cuisine can be found in the capital city of Mexico City, where restaurants such as Antigua Hacienda de Tlalpan proudly display the centuries old cuisine of Mexico. Another great choice when eating in Mexico City is Pujol, whose chef, Enrique Olvera, is widely considered the best chef in Mexico. Outside Mexico City, the best food can be found in small restaurants known to the locals. Some of the more popular cities for dining include Puebla, Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.

Sopapillas - yum!

Sopapillas – yum!

Mexico is a country with a fantastic history and local cuisine. While global food cultures enjoy locally adapted versions of Mexican cuisine, the indigenous food of this region is truly unique among global cultures. With the isolation and unique ingredients of the New World, Mexican cuisine was truly unique when Europeans first arrive in North America. In time, the country adapted the language and cooking techniques of the Spanish, adding significantly to the national cuisine. From the Haute restaurants of Mexico City to the pueblos around the nation, you are sure to be impressed with the variety and honest taste of this culinary nation.

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