For centuries we have been cooking the “European” way. Classic European cuisine is what we were taught in culinary school as the non-negotiable foundation and is still the model for the majority of reputable culinary schools today. However, chefs from around the world are challenging the status quo and trying to find their own culinary identity, confidence for self-expression and independence through food. A food revolution is rumbling, particularly in Latin America, and is expanding rapidly to other continents of the world.
Latin flavors, ingredients and techniques have become an added alternative to help chefs develop their own style and culinary voice worldwide. The “New World”, as the Europeans called it back in the day, has been enjoying and utilizing these ingredients and techniques for centuries. Today, thanks to leading chefs and professionals from the Caribbean and Latin America, these ingredients have become one of the most potent influences for US chefs.
Globalization has made it is easier and less expensive to travel, therefore expanding the knowledge of this generation of diners along with their expectations for newer and more exciting dining alternatives. More than ever before, customers are demanding variety and healthier choices on menus. Latin cuisine offers a vibrant combination of ingredients that does not necessarily need to be heavy with butter, fats or heavy creams in the manner of French cooking. Latin cuisine is mostly based on a blend of fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, chocolates and healthier oils (avocado, dende and coconut) which makes it ideal for lighter, healthier and more nutritious menu items.
I still remember the days when the kitchens of the most renowned hotels, resorts and restaurants in Latin America and the US were directed mostly by European chefs and a plethora of products were being imported to the New World from the Old World so they could execute their cuisine. There is now more diversity at the helms of those kitchens, and Latin American chefs that are in those key positions are finally listening to their inner voices. They are going back to their roots, opening vaults and re-discovering a wealth of ancient recipes and techniques, allowing them to develop a unique and distinctive culinary identity. With this diversity, a new Latin American food revolution and independence from the European culinary rule is taking place and is rumbling louder and louder.
I invite you to join the revolution — not Simon Bolivar’s, Che Guevara’s or Emiliano Zapata’s 18th or 19th century Latin American revolution — but the 21st century Latin American food revolution. I guarantee that you will find it to be a new adventure of charm and success.
Nelson Millán is an adjunct professor at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio Campus. Millán was born in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, and has worked at the Noga Hilton in Geneva, Switzerland, California’s Hotel Del Coronado and the Ocean Reef Club in South Florida, among other prestigious locations.
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