Food, Wine, and Spirits

I haven’t been able to store my suitcase for weeks! Right after returning from Las Vegas, I was packing again to head out to the Midwest. This time, I was set to visit my birthplace, Chicago, which was super exciting. I was just a baby when my parents moved back to Venezuela and I did not visit the city per se until 2003, during my first year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This time, I was visiting for work but looking forward to enjoying the City, its restaurants, and even a small reunion with my fellow Wolverines.

I was honored to receive an invitation by Chef Mario Santiago of May Street Café for a collaboration, an event called “Noche Latina”, at his newest venture: Del Toro Tequila Bar. Together, we designed a special menu of small plates to showcase the flavors of Latin American cuisine and to pair with 3G Tequila and 5Rabbit Cerveceria, our sponsors. My two dishes were “Beer braised carnitas in jicama roll-ups with pickled purple cabbage and avocado sauce” and “Lime-tequila shrimp ceviche with mango and plantain chip”. Chef Mario prepared his famous “Chorizo Sopes” and “Lechon Tachos,” which is amazing—he prepares the pork (lechon) Puerto Rican-style. Yum! He also made his special “Flan brulée with guava and jalapeño” for the guests. I will be posting pictures from this event to my Facebook Fan Page very soon. Stay tuned!

 It was quite a learning experience to get in the kitchen with such a talented Chef and gave me a real shot of Latino-pride. I had the opportunity to work with incredible people and received help from a passionate crew of line cooks—the “hands” (as Chef Santiago called them) that helped us execute our dishes and please the crowd.

 The event was a success and we received incredible support from friends, fans, and the community. Needless to say, I had an amazing time and already look forward to coming back to Chi Town in the summer for another event — this time in an open patio!

Back in Los Angeles, my first project on the list was to create pairing recipes for new releases by Judd’s Hill Winery in Napa Valley, where I had the opportunity to do an internship during crush this year. The trio of wines were a 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet, a 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay, and my favorite, 2007  Judd Cabernet. Check out my original recipes, exclusively developed for each of these wines.

Braised lamb shoulder with cocoa and chile ancho, parsnip-rutabaga puree, pan-roasted baby carrots, and a cabernet-pomagranate sauce. (Recipe)

Caramelized scallops on cauliflower-leek ‘polenta’ with oyster mushroom and fenneal saute, chervil salad. (Recipe)

Duck breast with prune-cabernet chutney, scalloped potatoes, and sauteed lacinato kale. (Recipe)

Although I feel very comfortable creating pairing recipes for wine, I was not so experienced with beer and other spirits. I am not much of a beer drinker and maybe that is why I only used beer to cook when I marinated “Carne asada” or made Venezuelan “Parrilla” (our version of a BBQ).  I also knew hardly anything about Tequila until I moved to California. I had lots of fun working with both of them and felt motivated to keep exploring pairings.

Another opportunity soon came my way and it was to join forces with fellow architect and talented mixologist, Nikolas Xenophon, of The Congenial Hour. Our goal was to create a Thanksgiving-inspired, casual dish to pair with cocktails. The result, “Open-Face Stuffed Turkey Sliders with Cranberry-Onion Compote, Thyme Corn Bread ‘Buns’, and Sweet Potato Chips” paired with a “Velvet on High” or “Humball”—a cocktail with hum: “a spirit with spices that work well with Alejandra’s ‘cook global’ theme, as it’s modeled upon flavors from the French Caribbean: hibiscus, ginger root, kaffir lime, and green cardomom.” Sounds like a spirit I need to start using in the kitchen! That and sake, rum, and pisco.

The trio of sliders served with sweet potato chips–YUM!

I will definitely share posts and recipes of my upcoming projects in the kitchen. Being so busy I have not been able to blog as often as I’d like to, but I am definitely keeping you in the loop! Look out for my next blog post where I will talk about my experience staging for Chef Ricardo Zarate of Picca Peruvian Cantina, a little about my book, and Holiday madness at Cucina Cocina—Corporate Christmas parties, cooking classes, restaurant consulting, and more!

Until then, stay healthy, keep smiling, and adios!

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