I was at a gathering recently when someone mentioned Latin food.
“What’s your favorite Latin food?” they asked. Wow, let me tell you, this room full of foodie know-it-alls sure got quiet.
“Um, meat on skewers,” offered up one friend.
“Street tacos,” another spit out.
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I could remember a Francis Mallman recipe where he smashed and charred goat cheese on a plancha, but that was it for me.
Someone else mentioned a local restaurant on Southwest Boulevard, and of course he was chided since that was really Tex-Mex.
Then that same person turned to me and snorted, “Well, (Latin food) sure isn’t In-A-Tub, with powdered cheese” in reference to a completely different topic that I recently wrote about.
The point is: This group of people is knowledgeable about food, but really comes up short when it comes to Latin cuisine. You’re probably in the same boat.
While we have a bunch of great restaurants here in Kansas City, there’s not a lot of Latin represented. We’ve got Tex-Mex, some authentic Mexican and then one type of Brazilian restaurant here.
Well, I’ve got great news. There’s an event on April 16 that will give us the chance to taste and learn about the many flavors of Latin cuisine, all in one place. And we’ll get to try Latin-inspired cocktails. And the event will feature 11 of our city’s talented chefs and eight of the top mixologists.
The event is Comida 2015, the second Annual Latin Culinary Arts Experience, from 7 to 9 p.m. April 16 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.
It’s a fundraiser for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City and the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Collaborative. This year they’re also bringing in mezcal and tequila experts, who will provide tastings and discuss the history and production process.
The culinary talent being showcased is impressive. Each of these chefs will be doing their interpretation of different Latin dishes:
▪ Honorary chef — Michael Smith, Executive Chef/Owner, Michael Smith and Extra Virgin
▪ Howard Hanna, chef, The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange
▪ Julio Juarez, chef, Tengo Sed Cantina
▪ Celina Tio chef/owner, Julian & Collection
▪ Jennifer Maloney, executive chef, Café Sebastienne
▪ Carmen Cabia Garcia, chef, El Tenedor
▪ Patrick Ryan, executive chef/owner, Port Fonda
▪ Jonathan Nunez, chef, Louie’s Wine Dive
▪ Jonathan Pye, chef, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
▪ Mario Galan, chef, Avenues Bistro
▪ Jorge Rios, chef
I’ve spoken with a few of the chefs leading up to this event. Here are some of the delectable bites you’ll have the chance to taste.
Juarez will make an Argentinian Wild Boar Stew and a cookie called Alfajores, which is made with cornstarch. The cornstarch gives the dough a smooth, satiny texture and produces a tender, crumbly cookie.
Cabia Garcia will present flavors from her native Spain.
“I’m making paella rice balls injected with lobster cream,” she said. “And I am also making ‘Pastel de Tortilla,’ which is a multiple layer Spanish omelet cake with different flavors in each layer with Spanish tomato sauce and Pimenton de la Vera on each layer.”
Malony will be interpreting Oaxaca.
“I’m doing Estofado de res de Ixtepec, which is a braised beef stew with fruits, and corn tortillas on the side.”
And for something sweet, she’ll make a fruit empanada with crema.
Hanna is bringing Cuban inspirations with Moros y Cristianos, a rice and beans dish with braised chicken and sausage, and Medianoche.
“It’s a play on Cubano sandwiches that they serve in nightclubs like a snack,” he said. “Mine will have roast pork, ham, a smear of liver pate and a compound butter with mustard, lard, pickle and gruyere.”
Good food always needs good drinks. So enter some of Kansas City’s top mixologists:
▪ Berto Santoro, Extra Virgin/Michael Smith
▪ Brock Schulte, The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange
▪ Evan McConnell, bartender, Local Pig
▪ Ryan Rama, Cocobolos
▪ Zac Snyder, Cleaver & Cork
▪ Katy Wade, Julep/The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange
▪ Scott Tipton, Julep/Liquid Minded Concepts
▪ Jeff Lichtenberger, Cocobolos
Here’s a preview of just two of the mind-blowing cocktails that will be represented at Comida 2015. Remember, these descriptions are for a single cocktail.
McConnell chose to highlight El Salvador.
“It’s some of my favorite Latin cuisine,” he said. “I love El Salvadoran cooking, so I wanted to take a food-forward approach to my cocktail.
“El Salvador, uniquely, makes vodka from their cane sugar, so I grilled some ripe plantains to make a really fantastic infused vodka.”
To add a savory element to his cocktail, he cooked black beans with Loroca flower bud, roasted garlic and raw cane sugar. He made syrup by cooking whole cane Panela sugar with tamarind, cinnamon and water. Fresh lime juice will lend a classic acidity.
“I had a ton of fun making this cocktail and I’m really excited to pour it at Comida,” McConnell said.
Wade will channel Colombia because “it’s the first place I really fell in love with food and cooking. The food is simple but very good … and perfectly seasoned. I want my drink to represent the simple balance that is in the food.”
Although still refining her final creation, she plans to use Reposado tequila as her base spirit. Other flavors that may appear are tamarind, coffee, chocolate and salt.
Is your mouth watering yet? I know mine is. Comida 2015 is your chance to get out of the Tex-Mex rut, taste some exciting Latin flavors and maybe learn a thing or two. Click on the link below to find out more information and purchase tickets.
I hope to see you there. And I’m pretty sure there won’t be any powdered cheese around.
Tickets to the main event cost $135. For more information, check out the event’s website comidakc.com/. The event will be held at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Rozzelle Court & Kirkwood Hall, 4525 Oak St.
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a master student of pizza crafting, and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.