Chefs at the conference will discuss their passions for local and native cuisines.
On Fire is the theme of the 18th annual Worlds of Flavor conference hosted by The Culinary Institute of America, and scheduled for April 20–22 at the CIA Greystone campus in St. Helena, California. This year’s conference explores the new frontiers of food, and how cultural traditions are merging with the ever-expanding focus on what’s local.
Call it “new fusion” or simply “new American,” but increasingly there is an intersection of culinary pursuits where chefs, who are internationally minded and rooted in the age-old techniques of their diverse backgrounds, are also devoted to exploring the flavors that immediately surround them. The CIA has asked the chefs presenting at Worlds of Flavor to discuss what ignites their culinary fire, sparks their passions, and speaks to their culture.
FSR caught up with two presenters to learn how they’re merging local and indigenous ingredients with the flavors and traditions of their native origins.
Enrique Olvera, chef/owner of Pujol, in Mexico City, and Cosme, in New York City.
When just a teenager, Enrique Olvera took his passion for cooking—something he discovered working in his grandparents’ pastry shop—one step further by enrolling in The Culinary Institute of America. Four years later, he opened his first restaurant, Pujol, in Mexico City, just hours away from the town where he had lived after growing up in the central Mexican state of Querétaro. Since opening in 2000, Pujol has earned accolades worldwide, even being ranked as one of Latin America’s top 50 restaurants.
Now, Chef Olvera has returned to the city he calls his second home to explore the foods and ingredients native to New York and the East Coast, and marry those finds with his deep love of Mexican cooking and culinary traditions.
Opened in September 2014 in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, Cosme is one of 10 businesses in Olvera’s expansive portfolio, and his first foray into the U.S. At Cosme, Chef Olvera explores modern Mexican cuisine as it meets the new culinary Americana, with a menu that pays homage to age-old culinary techniques but focuses on the contemporary. “The food needs to be simple, but also unique,” he says, adding “the way to achieve that is to work with local growers and producers and integrate that Mexican heritage.”
For example, local beets are roasted and served with a Hudson Valley farmer’s cheese, a little epazote, charred corn salsa, and beet-colored tortillas, while an ayocote bean salad comes with radish and a charred-cucumber vinaigrette. On occasion, hominy partners with squash and parsnips, other things the chef can’t get in Mexico City, but he can in New York. And instead of epazote, he uses tarragon in an avocado purée.
“Using the backbone of frijoles, corn, and chilies from Mexico, with ingredients from here, has become challenging but also super fun,” he says. Olvera and his chef de cuisine regularly visit the city’s Union Square farmers’ market for seasonal picks and new discoveries.
Amid the hustle and bustle of New York City’s restaurant scene, Cosme serves as a more approachable respite where Chef Olvera says he strives to make a place that “people can enjoy often, even a few times a month, and not just on special occasions.”
But while discovering new ingredients in New York and tying them into modern Mexican cuisine may drive much of his culinary fire these days, Olvera still returns to his first passion. “It’s all about making people happy,” he says. “Right now, we’re enjoying being more creative, but also trying to create a beautiful experience that people want to be a part of.”
Samantha and Cody Carroll, chef/owners of Sac-a-lait in New Orleans.
At their second restaurant, Sac-a-lait , which opened in March 2015, husband-and-wife team Cody and Samantha Carroll are reviving the Warehouse District in The Big Easy with a focus on authentic Louisiana recipes using indigenous and locally farmed foods. Sac-a-lait has taken the city by storm, earning the designation of “Restaurant of the Year” from New Orleans Magazine, while their first restaurant, Hot Tails, has been a city favorite since it opened in April 2010.
Cody Carroll, who grew up on a farm in Batchelor, Louisiana, surrounded by crawfish ponds and sugarcane, and Samantha, who grew up 45 minutes outside of New Orleans, say Sac-a-lait “represents all things you can farm, hunt, and fish in Louisiana.” That means gathering a ton of fresh produce and greens from nearby farms, along with fowl and wild game like geese, venison, and boar—available now thanks to loosening regulations in Louisiana.
As an example of their culinary creativity, the chefs once stuffed wild boar heart with a Louisiana-style dirty rice risotto, packed full of ground meat, onion, and bell pepper. They wrapped it in caul fat, slow-smoked it, and served it with fresh radishes and fresh turnips, straight from the farm.
“The farmers have been coming to our restaurant every other day, or every three days, and we get to walk through their trucks and take our pick of the harvest,” she says. The duo now works with farmers to plan ahead for more specific finds, like white sweet potatoes, certain species of garlic, and squash that is indigenous to the region. They have also brought in whole acorn-fed hogs, which are used to make a house-cured and house-dried hunter sausage (a country-style salami), tasso ham, fresh pork sausage, and a rich, bone-based stock. In true snout-to-tail commitment, they even used a ramification of the skull as the serving vessel for a homemade hogshead cheese, paired with a pickled turnip and bourbon jalapeño mustard.”
“We try to do what people in Louisiana do: Use the whole animal without wasting anything,” says Chef Cody, who also pickles all sorts of vegetables during harvest season, even dehydrating them for a spice-like ash to use during off-season.
What ignites the couple’s passion the most is working with the local resources and inspirations from their family.