National Hispanic Heritage Month is a dedicated time to celebrate the culture, contributions, and influence of Hispanic Americans on the history and culture of the United States. While it may seem strange to begin and end a celebration mid-month, that monthlong period is purposeful because it's all-encompassing.
Independence and Día de la Raza
The United States begins its celebration on September 15 because it's the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence shortly after, on September 16 and 18, respectively. National Hispanic Heritage Month ends October 15, just after Día de la Raza.
Día de la Raza – “Day of Race” – commemorates Christopher Columbus' October 12, 1492, discovery of the Americas. In Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Día de la Raza celebrates Hispanic heritage in Latin America. It's important to note that Día de la Raza isn’t a celebration of Columbus but of the diverse cultures and cultural influences that resulted from European discovery.
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we're taking a moment to highlight a few contemporary chefs influencing America and its culinary traditions.
Multitalented chef Maricel Presilla is what you may call an academic chef. A culinary historian, Presilla holds a Ph.D. in medieval Spanish history and is an expert on Latin American cuisines, peppers, and chocolate. She's completed significant research on Latin American agriculture and is the president of a Latin American food research and marketing company.
In addition to her culinary research and industry work, Presilla is an award-winning cookbook author and restaurateur. Presilla is the 2012 recipient of the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic region and the 2013 winner of the James Beard Foundation's Cookbook of the Year for "Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America."
You may recognize award-winning chef Aarón Sánchez from competitive cooking shows "MasterChef" and "Chopped" or his New Orleans-based Mexican restaurant, Johnny Sánchez. However, those familiar with culinary lineage know that he is descended from a line of culinary talent. Sánchez is a third-generation cookbook author, after his mother, Zarela Martinez, and grandmother, Aida Gabilondo.
When he's not working on concepts for his restaurant or television shows (for which he's a James Beard Foundation award winner), Sánchez engages in philanthropy. He's a recipient of the Premio Orgullo Award presented by the Hispanic Federation for being a leader in the Hispanic community. Sánchez advocates for second-generation Latin Americans to speak Spanish and surround themselves with people connected to the culture to hold onto their Latino roots.
Baker and leader
Executive pastry chef Paola Velez's resume is impressive – a James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year semifinalist and Pastry Chef of the Year award winner from the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington – but her work extends far beyond delectably sweet confections. Velez is co-founder of Doña Dona, a Latin American pop-up restaurant benefitting Ayuda, a nonprofit providing legal, social, and language services for low-income immigrants. In addition to Doña Dona, Velez is co-founder of Bakers Against Racism, an international nonprofit that sells baked goods to raise funds for social justice causes.
Velez learned valuable lessons while working with award-winning chef Jacques Torres early in her career. Not only did she hone her craft, but her experience with Torres directly shaped how she would eventually lead her teams. As a result, Velez is an adept and empathetic leader both in and out of the kitchen as an advocate for people of color in the restaurant industry.
Tantalize your tastebuds with the spicy and vibrant flavor of these beef tacos with mango jicama relish:
Coffee Braised Beef Tacos with Mango Jicama Relish
Servings: 12 tacos
2 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 1 mango, finely diced
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder 1 cup jicama, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon kosher salt ½ cup red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 poblano chile, seeded and fine diced
1 tablespoon brown sugar 3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin 2 tablespoons lime juice
2 ⅓ pounds beef chuck roast 2 tablespoons honey
1 onion, halved 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 ⅓ cups coffee 12 corn taco shells
STEP 1: Cut beef in half.
STEP 2: Preheat grill on high. Preheat oven to 350°F.
STEP 3: In a bowl combine cocoa powder, ancho chile powder, salt, brown sugar, and ground cumin; mix well.
STEP 4: Evenly coat beef with cocoa powder mixture.
STEP 5: Place beef on the grill to set the crust. If you don’t have a grill, sear your beef in a pan on high heat. Grill or sear on each side for two minutes; beef will look dark.
STEP 6: Place beef in a deep pan with a snug fit. Add split onion and coffee. Cover and place in oven for 4-5 hours or until fork tender and falling apart.
STEP 7: Remove beef and onions from liquid. Discard liquid. Course chop beef and cooked onions; mix together. Keep beef warm or properly cool until ready to use.
Mango Jicama Relish
STEP 1: In a bowl combine the mango, jicama, red onion, poblano pepper, cilantro, lime juice, and honey; mix well.
Heat skillet on high and add vegetable oil. Sauté beef until lightly crisp. Place beef in each taco shell, top with relish, and serve.