NEW YORK (Reuters) - Music and food have always been a big part of Dante Gonzales’s life. so it is no surprise that the award-winning chef, caterer and party promoter managed to combine both worlds.
His love of music comes from his grandfather, tenor saxophonist Jimmy Forrest, who had a big hit with his recording of the jazz classic “Night Train,” while his grandmother taught him to cook.
“I never set out to be a chef,” said the 38-year-old Los Angeles-based chef, who has cooked for celebrities including actress Demi Moore, rapper Snoop Dogg and singer/songwriter Santigold.
His first cookbook “Ride or Fry: The Dante Fried Chicken Experience,” which includes 100 recipes, tips on equipping a pantry, basic tools, home-made spices and setting up a smoker, was published earlier this month.
Gonzales started his culinary career hosting underground dinner parties with music in New York and then did a web-based cooking show featuring musicians before launching his Ride or Fry food truck and pop-up stands and catering business.
He spoke to Reuters about fried chicken, his cross-culinary, eclectic style of cooking and his new book.
Q: How would you describe your style of cooking?
A: “I call it Transatlantic African. You would probably call it soul food or innovative or fusion soul food ... For me soul food, or southern food, or Dominican food, whatever you want to call it, is just an amalgamation of three different cultures. European, African and indigenous cultures ... I take food back to the basics.”
Q: Who taught you how to cook?
A: “I would have to say it is my grandmother. It is in our DNA. All the men in my family, all the women in my family, know how to cook and clean. It was just something that was taught to us all ... My grandmother made everything from scratch, candies, meringue.”
Q: Do many of the recipes in the book originate from your grandmother?
A: “Yes, a lot definitely. A lot of them originate from her. She lived in LA in the 60s ... It has always been in my DNA to combine these cultures.
Q: What ingredients could you not live without?
A: “The basics — garlic, onions, definitely spices like paprika and herbs. I love herbs. It would be all the basics that flavor dishes.
Q: When you are catering an event how many people do you cook for?
A: “Last month I cooked for about a thousand people for a Converse block party. I did something for my friend and he had maybe 10 people. It depends. The food can come in any form, whether it is appetizers, a sit-down meal, a family meal. I do a lot of private events. I was flown out to the UK for the Olympics.”
Q: Are there more books in your future?
Endives with Hoppin’ John Hummus
Makes 15 pieces, prep and cooking time 30 minutes
15 endive leaves, washed and dried
1 16-oz. can of black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
3 to 6 tbsps. tahini
2 garlic cloves, smashed
½ tsp. sea salt
2 tbsps. olive oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. white pepper
3 tbsps. fresh lemon juice
¼ cup Veggie Stock (page 194)
1 squirt of amino acids, preferably Bragg’s
1 roasted red or yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 shallot, minced
½ cup minced fresh parsley
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
Make the Hummus
In a blender, combine the black-eyed peas, tahini, garlic, salt, olive oil, cumin, white pepper, lemon juice, and stock. Mix on low until smooth, about 3 minutes, stopping several times to scrape down the sides of blender with a spatula.
Make the topping
In a small bowl, combine the amino acids, pepper, shallots, and parsley.
Using a butter knife or small spatula, fill each endive leaf with 1 tablespoon of hummus. Top each filled endive with some pepper mixture and crumbled feta.
Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Elaine Lies