In the last decade the popularity of Latin-American food has soared. Traditional Mexican foods and flavors, such as salsas, tortillas, and guacamole, are becoming staples in the American pantry. While the market for Latin American food is growing, a majority of these “Latin” foods are Americanized. In the US, all Latin American countries are often grouped together. However, over recent years Latin American chefs have slowly expanded the audience and accessibility to real, authentic, foods from their various countries of origin.
Latin American chefs have claimed their spot in pop culture, with more making an appearance on Food Network shows and shows like Chef’s Table and Mind of a Chef. Food is a powerful language and these chefs are using it to share their culture with the world. Each of the ten Latinx chefs listed below has a restaurant in the United States and a unique cooking style that showcases their culture.
1. Enrique Olvera (México; Restaurant: Cosme, NYC)
Cosme in New York City aims to expand people’s perception of Mexican food. Olvera uses a mix of European techniques and traditional Mexican ingredients and flavors to create unique dishes full of familiar flavors. Olvera’s restaurant in Mexico City, Pujol, was named one of the 50 best restaurants across the globe.
2. Richard Sandoval (Mexico; Restaurants: Zocalo, Atlanta and Pueblo, Chicago)
Sandoval’s restaurant in Atlanta is a midpoint between Tex-Mex and Mexican food. They have cheese enchiladas and burritos as well as queso fundido, nopales, and mole. He aims to gradually introduce people to authentic Mexican food. Pueblo Chicago elevates classic Mexican home cooking by taking traditional flavors and adding something new to them. Sandoval has 28 restaurants in the united states.
3. Gastón Acurio (Perú; Restaurants: La Mar, Miami/San Francisco and Tanta, Chicago)
Gastón has many restaurants all over the Americas and is famous for being a key player in the gastronomical revolution in Peru. His different restaurants all focus on different regions within Peru. La Mar specializes in seafood, focusing on the coastal cuisine in Peru. Ceviche is one of Acurio’s signature dishes, with different variations at all his restaurants. The buffet at La Mar is unique because it allows dinners to sample dishes from all regions of Peru. Tanta, in Chicago,explorethe Asian fusion aspects of Peruvian cuisine, withchifadishes and tiraditos. They also have empanadas andanticuchos, popular street foods in Peru.
4. Zarela Martínez (México; Restaurant: Zarela Catering, El Paso, TX)
Martinez is the mother of celebrity chef and restaurateur Aaron Sanchez and part owner of his taqueria in New Orleans, and his restaurant in New York City. She moved from Mexico to New York in the1980’s and started a catering business. Her signature dishes are Mexican comfort foods, such as mole and poblanos rellenos. She had a restaurant of her own in New York for several years, but after her Parkinson’s diagnosis, she has retired from the kitchen and now focuses on her blog and cookbooks. She continues to educate America on Mexican food and culture.
5. Ana Chipana (Bolivia; Restaurant: Wara Quinoa organic bakery, Tarmac, FL)
Chipana built her career around one ingredient that is abundant in her home country, quinoa. She uses the versatile grain in all sorts of dishes ranging from sweet to savory. Chipana’s bakery has a focus on pastries and sweets, all featuring quinoa. Quinoa has grown in popularity a lot over the past few years, and Chipana one of the driving forces behind this.
6. Francis Mallmann (Argentina; Restaurant: Los Fuegos, Miami)
Mallmann has mastered the art of cooking with live fire. The menu at his Miami restaurant revolves around fire- whether it’s a wood oven, la plancha, or the grill, almost every dish has been kissed by fire. Los Fuegos is an Argentinian restaurant at heart, but individual dishes can range from Greek to French to Mexican.
7. Carlos Gaytán (México; Restaurant: Mexique, Chicago)
Gaytán focused his restaurant on French-inspired Mexican food, creating dishes such as duck carnitas and lamb barbacoa. He also pairs French sides, such as risotto, with carne asada or braised goat. This fusion has brought new life to both cuisines. Gaytán has set out to prove that Mexican cuisine is just as complex as European cuisine.
8. José Mendín (Puerto Rico; Restaurants: Pubbelly, Miami and Sushisamba, Miami and Mercadito, Chicago/Miami)
After working in the most notable Japanese restaurant in the US, Nobu, and studying culinary arts in Madrid, Mendín went to Miami and opened his first restaurant, Mosaico. The next year he opened Sushisamba and began his exploration of Japanese Puerto Rican fusion cuisine. Pubbelly is another exploration of Asian Latin fusion. His signature dish is Hamachi Aguachiles, Japanese Hamachi fish marinated in a spicy watermelon broth- similar to ceviche. He also owns Mercadito in Chicago, which is a more traditional taqueria.
9. Daniela Soto-Innes (México; Restaurants: Alta and Cata, NYC)
Soto-Innes is young and innovative. She is trying to elevate traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients by merging them with European dishes and techniques. Her signature dishes include an arctic char and fresh cheese tostada and a corn husk meringue. She has created a unique fusion of Mexican flavors with classic European dishes.
10. Juan Manuel Barrientos (Colombia; Restaurant: El Cielo, Miami)
Barrientos describes his cuisine as Avant Garde Colombian food. He has brought creativity and innovation to classic dishes, and given them new life. He had the difficult task of maintaining the integrity of traditional dishes while adding new elements to them. Barrientos has opened restaurants in North and South America as well as in Spain. Dishes at El Cielo range from a classic ceviche, to yuca bread with a passionfruit and chocolate sauce, to sous vide smoked fish nigiri.
*Text and list by Carson Lee
*Photo credit: Inés Menacho