NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Chef Richard Sandoval, despite tough economic times, believes there is plenty of enthusiasm worldwide for food from his native Mexico and other parts of Latin America.
Sandoval, who owns more than 15 restaurants including one in Dubai, opened two eateries next to each other in Santa Monica, California in August.
La Sandia features his modern twists on Mexican dishes, while Zengo showcases his fusion of Latin and Asian flavors.
The 42-year-old Mexican City native spoke to Reuters about the state of Latin cuisine and the restaurant industry.
Q: Why did you open two restaurants in the same space? Isn't it a big gamble in this environment?
A: "Due to the recession and everything, it didn't make sense to do this one concept. I thought it would be too big to have one restaurant there. I thought about sub-dividing the space, having two separate restaurants. I got a great deal. It was a joint venture between me and the mall. I still feel in times like these you can position yourself for the next 10 years."
Q: How are La Sandia and Zengo different?
A: "They are completely different concepts. They are completely different designs. There are no similarities. They do not compete with each other at all. If you want Mexican, you would walk into the Mexican one. If you want more of a fusion, you would go into Zengo."
Q: What made you decide to fuse Latin and Asian cuisines?
A: "When you look at Latin and Asian cuisines, they use very similar ingredients. You use a lot of rice. When you look at the flavor profiles, the spices, the acids and the sweets -- when you look at those three common denominators, it's not that difficult to complement each other. The sharing of the small plates is something that everyone is moving toward and having fun. Instead of an appetizer and an entree you can have eight different plates. You are having a lot more textures and flavors, so that works."
Q: What trends are you seeing on Latin restaurants?
A: "We don't know that much about other Latin cuisines like Peruvian. I think we are going to see a lot more of these other Central and Latin American cuisines the next few years."
Arepas de Puerco (serves 4)
For Arepas (yields about 8 discs)
1/2 cup Masarepa, yellow corn meal
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
1. Mix salt with water in large bowl until dissolved.
2. Slowly mix in masarepa with hands until thoroughly absorbed. It should have a firm consistency.
3. Pinch the "dough" into eight equally sized balls. Roll in the palms of both hands until each becomes a smooth ball, then press flat, rounding edges as you go. It should resemble a disc with flat edges.
4. Cook on a cast-iron skillet or non-stick pan over low heat until barely browned on each side, about 2 minutes.
5. Cool on plate and reserve for future use.
For Pulled Pork
1.5 pounds pork butt, excess fat cleaned
1 small yellow onion, rough chop
1/2 bunch cilantro
3 pieces chili de arbol, crushed (red, dried chiles)
1/2 cup hoisin sauce (a sweet Chinese sauce)
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons schimi togarashi (a Japanese spice blend)
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Water to cover
1. Cut entire pork butt into smaller, proportionate pieces to ensure equal cooking time.
2. In an appropriately sized sauce pot add just enough water to cover the pork. Do not add excess water as it will diminish the flavor of the stock.
3. Stir in the ingredients, making sure that the achiote and hoisin are completely dissolved.
4. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer, approximately 3-4 hours or until pork easily breaks apart.
5. Cool slightly and shred pork with a fork. Strain the liquid and return to cover the pork. Taste to adjust seasoning, and reserve warm for use.
1.5 pounds braised pork in jus, reserved warm
8 arepa discs
Canola oil for frying
Guacamole or avocado mashed
Chopped scallions to garnish
Sesame seeds to garnish
Sliced serrano chiles to garnish
Crema mexicana (similar to creme fraiche) to drizzle
1. Heat canola oil in a small sauce pan until it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit and fry the arepas for approximately 90 seconds. Drain on paper towel and allow to cool slightly.
2. Being careful not to burn yourself cut the arepas in half sideways to form two discs. They should be crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.
3. Place the arepas on a plate crunchy side down and top with the pork that has been drained from its liquid. Top with a spoonful of guacamole.
4. Garnish each with a slice of serrano, sesame seeds, and scallions.
5. Drizzle the crema fresca over the arepas (it might need to be thinned with a little milk depending on the crema).
Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Patricia Reaney