In a powerful tribute to the subtle complexities of Latin flavors, the Latin American Association of Atlanta (LAA) hosted a gourmet five-course meal and tequila event on September 9, 2011 at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta. The fundraising event was designed to honor Latin cultures and support the LAA’s local efforts to inspire at-risk youth to achieve in leadership and academics, to empower adults in English-language and computer literacy skills, to integrate families into community programs, and to provide solutions to their urgent financial and humanitarian needs.
With food artisans gathered from many cultures and culinary backgrounds, the evening began on the patio with Don Julio’s Luxury Tequila Drop, sponsored by Diageo, makers of Don Julio tequila. The Paloma cocktails were a refreshing and crisp balance of sweet grapefruit and Don Julio Blanco. Another cocktail on the menu was a sweet yet complex blend of muddled lime, cucumber, basil, grapefruit and Don Julio Blanco – absolutely the perfect balance of savory and sweet for a late summer evening.
While savory hors d’oeuvres were passed by Le Cordon Bleu’s aspiring chefs, Diageo’s Reserve Brands Ambassador Lauren Iovanella hosted a splendid cocktail competition, where guests selected aromatics, berries, fresh juices, Mexican chocolate and more to create a one-of-a-kind tequila drink judged by the professionals. The winning concoction? A mysterious chocolate and tequila combination. (Next week, I’ll post the recipe here after I learn more about it!)
After a warm welcome by Univision 34 Atlanta’s Mariela Romero and Fenuxe Magazine Restaurant and Food Critic Dino Thompson-Sarmiento, the evening’s hosts and commentators, the first course was a shrimp-based Ceviche Cocktail created by Chef Oscar Mendivil of Lime Taqueria and Tequila Bar in Smyrna. With bright notes of cilantro, mango and fresh lime, the ceviche enhanced the distinctive
flavor of shrimp. Balanced by the colors of creamy avocado and microgreens, Chef Mendivil’s presentation was thoughtful and appealing in a long-stemmed martini glass. Chef Mendivil credits his love of cooking to working by his grandmother’s side in a 100-year-old bakery in Mexico.
Guatemalan Chef Bladmir Pocasangre is the current executive sous chef with Wolfgang Puck at the Georgia Aquarium, the former caterer to heads of state and chef to eight Oscar awards dinners. Chef Pocasangre presented diners with perhaps the night’s most intriguing dish – Green Plantain and Longaniza Soup. What inspired me so much about his soup was the multi-layered complexity of flavors that hit the
palate as individual tasting notes. Beginning with a rich vegetable broth steeped with just a hint of cinnamon, the soup capitalized on the creamy potential of the plantains, slow-cooked in garlic, onions and herbs until soft. Blended and strained for a velvety consistency, the soup then combined with well-seasoned and zesty pork longaniza. For a finishing touch, Chef Pocasangre presented the soup with artistic swirls of cilantro and pepper puree with crispy plantains. Tasting was memorable as each bite allowed flavors to slowly escalate into a luxurious, satisfying experience.
Chef Kenji Terawaki’s duo of inventive, fresh and lively salads that mingled influences from his Chilean heritage with Asian flavors. A regular on CNN Café, Chef Terawaki approaches salad with an eye on color and texture. He presented Apio Palta Salad, a light yet crispy julienned celery salad with fresh blueberries and an avocado cilantro dressing. Alongside, a Pastelera Salad of grilled corn, raspberries and fresh basil featured spicy notes of dried chili. Chef Terawaki is a firm believer in understanding food’s origin and, whenever possible, buying organic. “Organic products will always last longer,” he points out, and that decision means more value for your grocery money.
To honor Georgia’s own culinary traditions with a regional dish, Chef Lala created a unique peanut salsa made with pumpkin seeds, cilantro and a hefty dose of habaneras that exploded fiery flavor on the back of the tongue. For the main course, guests were treated to Mole Poblano with Tomales de Pollo with homemade tortillas. This distinctive dish was created by Puebla nuns at the Convent of Santa Rosa and uses a wealth of ingredients as disparate as toasted pasilla chiles, sesame seeds, prunes and Mexican chocolate.
“Served traditionally in Mexico for festivities, 95% of people have tasted Mole Poblano and 95% of people have never made it themselves,” says Chef Lala of SAVOR! in Los Angeles. The nutritionist and chef coaches her audiences on television and at community events to combat obesity by educating them on how to use flavor as a tool for healthy living.
When speaking about her culinary inspiration, Lala quoted Poet Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Though her mole poblano sauce contains 28 different ingredients, Chef Lala swears that every kitchen only needs three: “Love. Passion. And desire.” And those critical ingredients, she believes, help all cooks “make magic in the kitchen.”
To round out the evening with a refreshing dessert, Chef Adrian Villarrealbrought together two taste classics in his Tequila Lime Pie with toasted meringue and caramelized fruit. Though his first cooking experiences were in his family’s kitchen in Mexico, his culinary education led him through noteworthy establishments in France to his current position as executive chef of TAP Gastropub in Atlanta. In a recollection of his culinary beginnings, Chef Villarreal recalled that as a young man he learned to cook because he
was hungry. Now he cooks for his family and friends, and shares with them treats like the crisp crust pie with sweet lime filling and delicate meringue.
The charity event for the Latin American Association was a resounding success, in large part due to the leadership, dedicated staff and volunteers of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and their very own Technique Restaurant. To learn more about the culinary enthusiast and professional chef programs offered here in Atlanta, visit the Le Cordon Bleu website.
You may also learn more about volunteer and sponsorship opportunities in your community at the Latin American Association website.