After a day of sampling and hearing discussions about Latin foods such as matalí, chaya leaves, siriguela and umbu, celebrity chef Rick Bayless had only one question: “Why are we not using some of that stuff?”
The answer, of course, is that most of these foods are not readily available in the United States, no matter how good they taste. Some are too perishable to travel in large quantities, others lack a built-in market or demand for them.
So, it’s up to chefs and food purveyors, like those who have come to the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus for the annual Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium, to help create a demand for them, the owner of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo said. Feature Brazilian cashew fruit on a menu, and people will love it enough to ask for it.
Don’t believe that? “Five years ago, nobody talked about coconut water,” he said. “But now we can get it all day long.”
The same could happen with yerba mate, which could be the new green tea, if it’s introduced to the public properly. Bayless admits he hated the taste the first time he tried it, but he felt the same about green tea, too. And he has grown to enjoy both.
“I’m always, always, always challenged by the lesser-used cuts of meat,” Bayless said, adding that he loves the growth he’s seen in the use of anything far from the center. He included tripe in that list, though we in San Antonio have always known its appeal.
The secret to success with these new-to-American ingredients goes beyond using them, the Chicago chef said. Anyone can do that. The dishes have to be delicious. You have to leave them wanting more.
Iliana de la Vega, who teaches at the CIA, is working on a similar mission, which is to make the pasilla pepper from Oaxaca more popular in the States.
“There’s a pendulum quality to diners,” Bayless said. “What we need to do is figure out where the pendulum is already going.”