Perched on a clifftop overlooking El Salvador’s Pacific Coast, a group of chefs gathered to cook together with the intention of offering a different image of Central America, something other than the one that is so often portrayed in the news, through its cuisine. The second edition of the event, as well as the second anniversary of Raíz, an ambitious pop-up run by young Salvadoran cooks Alexander Herrera and Gracia Navarro, showcased creative cuisine derived from native ingredients from a dramatic space normally inhabited by the Argentine restaurant La Pampa La Libertad. The group of chefs – coming from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama – have considerable of momentum, despite being mostly overlooked by regional media and lists.
Here are the dishes these chefs prepared at the Centro America Unida dinner in mid-November :
Saul Cordero, of Antík – a funky three floor restaurant, bar, and music venue in San José – is one of several Costa Rican chefs that are helping redefine the country’s cuisine. Rather than a heavy, mound of starches and proteins, Cordero opened the dinner with an almost deconstructed Central American plating, with fresh, vibrant Costa Rican flavors.
Like El Salvador, news out of Guatemala tends to focus on violence and natural disasters. One positive thing that’s being overlooked is the country’s fascinating culinary scene, from the traditional to a growing group of progressive chefs like Sergio Díaz of Guatemala City’s Ambia, home to perhaps the region’s only R&D kitchens.
Working closely with the Brí Brí and Cabecar in the highlands of Costa Rica, Pablo Bonilla of San José’s Sikwa is becoming one of the strongest promoters of indigenous cuisine in Central America. Here he fuses together flavorful native ingredients that have mostly been ignored by popular Costa Rica cooking.
All of these ingredients used by Raíz’s Alexander Herrera were food waste, things that had no apparent value, but were turned into something beautiful and delicious. It’s a dish emblematic of El Salvador today.
Flavors of starfruit and curry from Central America’s Caribbean coast flavor this pork hidden beneath a cluster of herbs from Carlos “Chombolín” Alba of Intimo in Panama, a country that has become a driving force for gastronomy in the region.
Talented pastry chef Gracia Navarro, also from Raíz, completely transforms a recipe her grandmother used to make, utilizing the same flavors yet with fresh fruits and contemporary kitchen techniques.
Wines for the dinner were selected by sommelier Ernie Solórzano, done with the spirit of showing that the ingredients and food of Central America can be paired with wines from all over the world. “The task that may at times be challenging since we produce no wine in this region,” he said, “but with the opportunity to work along chefs that cook with a global approach but local spirit makes things easier.”