CIA hosts 4-day celebration of Caribbean cuisine with Arriba El Caribe!
Nelson Millán
October 25, 2017

The third edition of the annual Latin Cuisine Summit at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio Campus was a four day celebration of the food, beverages and music of the Spanish-speaking islands of the Caribbean. Some of the most important chefs, business owners and bartenders from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba convened under the same roof to present "Arriba El Caribe!" -- one of the most delicious and colorful conferences the San Antonio campus has seen yet.

The opening day on Oct.18 included programming for students from a dozen local high schools in the morning and CIA culinary students in the afternoon. Live merengue music welcomed chef Wandy Robles from the Dominican Republic to the kitchen stage, where he enticed the audience with an impressive display of his culinary culture as well as an inspiring story on how he became the chef that he is today through hard work and perseverance, despite all the obstacles he encountered along the way.

The second day opened early in the morning to the rhythms of Puerto Rican bomba drums – made from empty rum barrels with the tops wrapped in animal skin -- to welcome puertorican chef Doreen Colondres, author of "La Cocina No Muerde," and her introduction to sofrito. The combination of onions, garlic and peppers is the essential foundation when cooking anything Caribbean. Doreen offered an in-depth explanation of the varieties of sofritos and how they are used in different Caribbean cuisines.

After the primer on sofrito, the chefs went on to present on soups and stews, which play an important role in the Caribbean culture. Robles joined chefs Giovanna Huyke from Puerto Rico and Douglas Rodriquez from Cuba to present their versions of sancocho, shrimp asopao and black bean soup, respectively. The next session highlighted the versatility of tropical tubers and other starchy vegetables, such as malanga, yautia, yuca, plantains and green bananas, and their uses in simple dishes like plantain dumplings in a rich chicken broth.

The Caribbean is known for its legendary rum production, so the Summit wouldn’t be complete without a session on cooking with rum. All the chefs took the kitchen stage to share their rum dishes, including lobster smothered in a rum-infused butter and orange sauce served over a yuca mofongo and a panela and rum-cured smoked salmon. These and other rum dishes perfumed the conference room, stoking the appetites of the audience who were eager to try everything at the market place lunch.

The market place lunch took place in the campus restaurant NAO, where attendees got to enjoy some of the chefs’ creations and some other interpretations of classic Caribbean dishes. Attendees dined to the rhythm of the musical group The Ecos de Puerto Rico, playing Caribbean tunes on the bongos and cuatro, a native Puerto Rican string instrument.

Roberto Guerra demonstrates the Caja China
Roberto Guerra demonstrates the Caja China

The day concluded with a discussion about how chefs can translate the Caribbean culture for US foodservice and restaurant concepts, and a hands-on cooking class where attendees cooked shoulder to shoulder with all the chef presenters. One of the highlights was Don Roberto Guerra, owner of La Caja China International, who teamed with chef Douglas Rodriguez to teach attendees how to cook a whole pig in his world famous boxes. After the cooking class, attendees and chefs sat down together for a buffet-style meal.

The third day opened to the rhythm of plena music from Puerto Rico and breakfast Caribbean-style. The chefs discussed the influences other cultures have had on Caribbean cuisine, including Chinese, Lebanese, Indian, African and European. A presentation of rum-centric cocktails from bartender Zurcoralis Rodriguez and a beer tasting led by a Master Cicerone from MillerCoors livened up the afternoon programming.

The third day concluded with a discussion panel including all the presenting chefs to discuss the past, present and future of Caribbean cuisine. Following the panel, the chefs jumped on the percussion instruments available on display and jammed away for about 15 minutes for a finish that had the attendees dancing in the aisles before a celebratory dinner at NAO with chef Doreen Colondres.

The Summit wrapped up on Oct. 21 with hands-on classes with the campus professors provided for home cooks and food enthusiasts.

Nelson Millan is a CIA adjunct professor and Latin Summit committee member. He is also the executive chef of the San Antonio Country Club. Born in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Millan's culinary career began when he recived a scholarship to the School of Hotel and Tourism in San Juan.

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