Latin Flavors, American Kitchens

In this NBC Latino interview, Roberto Santibañez, chef and author of Tacos, Tortas and Tamales, shows us how to make a salsa using sour prickly pears called xoconostles (pronounced "choko-nose-lehs").


The Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Leadership Symposium is an annual invitational leadership retreat presented by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at its San Antonio campus. The symposium focuses on the world heritage of Latin cuisines, their future on American menus, and the advancement of Latin American culinary professionals.

Part of the goal of the symposium and the CIA, San Antonio campus is to help foster a new generation of Latin American chefs in the United States whose cuisines have deep roots in the authentic traditions and flavors of their heritage, and to ensure that the best of Latin flavors find their rightful place at the American table and are rightfully acknowledged as among the finest in the world.

Each October the symposium draws together leading experts in the food and cultures of Latin America, as well as many of the corporate chefs and other foodservice leaders in our industry who are best positioned to advance the future of Latin American culinary talent and Latin-rooted flavors. Attendees of the 2012 symposium included more than 60 volume foodservice professionals and menu-decision makers from across the U.S., 20 presenting chefs and culinary experts, members of the CIA Latin Cuisines Advisory Council Executive Committee, journalists, representatives from the companies and organizations sponsoring the 2012 symposium, students from the CIA's Latin Cuisines Certificate Program, and CIA staff and faculty.

Presenters and guest chefs at Latin Flavors, American Kitchens offered strategies to increase the appreciation of the world-class quality of Latin America's culinary traditions on American menus and advance opportunities for Latin American culinary professionals in the United States.

Watch this NBC Latino video of Culinary Institute of America student Claudio Sottile, as he prepares a Peruvian-style pachamanca cooked in an ancient Andean method.

Program Themes

More than 20 guest chefs and presenters took attendees through the culinary traditions, techniques, and flavor profiles of Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, and, for the first time, Panama and Venezuela. Some of the program themes they explored include:

  • What do some of the greatest Latin cuisine chefs find most inspirational about their cuisine?
  • Demographic trends in the growth and diversity of Latino populations in the United States, including taste preferences and buying patterns.
  • An in-depth look at different ingredients and how they feature in various cuisines across Latin America, to provide a greater understanding of these foods.
  • The geography of flavors of Latin America, from Mexico and the Southern Caribbean to South America, including a consideration of root culinary cultures, "best practices," and the migration and mixing of culinary ideas.
  • The Latin market basket-the raw materials of the Latin kitchen-from imports to U.S-based production, and what the future holds for these products.
  • Asian influences on Latin cuisines, from flavors to techniques.
  • Concerns of authenticity when doing Latin cuisines outside of Latin America, from ingredients and flavor profiles to philosophical approaches.

Click for the 2012 program, presenter biographies, presentations, recipes and photos of all the dishes demonstrated, along with an extensive glossary of Latin American ingredients, cooking terms, and dishes.

A Cross-Cuisine Approach to Latin Flavors

Presenters discussed several key Latin American dishes and ingredients in depth and across cuisines, to provide attendees with a deeper understanding of the role these play in their homelands and the potential they have for American menus. Iliana de la Vega, Edinho Engel, Flavior Solórzano, and Christian Bravo examined chiles, ajíes, and pimentas as they appear in the culinary traditions of Mexico, Peru, and Brazil. In a session focused on meat, Federico López of Mexico, Dante Franco and Hubert O'Farrell of Argentina, and Rodrigo Oliveira of Brazil offered traditional and contemporary preparations for beef and lamb. A session on starches and beans focused on the central role of manioc in Brazil, potatoes in Peru, and corn, rice, and beans in Mexico. Other demonstrations looked at the variations between ceviches in Peru, Puerto Rico, and Panama; salads in Mexico, Argentina, Panama, and Peru; and non-alcoholic beverages from Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil.

In a session on cuisines of the Southern Caribbean, Elena Hernández and Francisco Castro showcased typical ingredients and flavors of Panama, a country where seafood and coconut figure prominently. Culantro, the country's most used herb, to not be confused with cilantro, give Panamanian dishes their distinctive flavor. Geronimo Lopez-Monascal, the executive chef of the CIA, San Antonio's newly opened restaurant, Nao, discussed the culinary philosophy driving the restaurant's menu, along with traditions from his native Venezuela.

Summary sessions by Latin Cuisines Advisory Council Executive Committee members Rick Bayless and Roberto Santibañez, along with a panel led by Chef Bayless, aimed at further helping attendees take the cuisines and concepts presented and apply them to their menus. Gaining a deep knowledge of a particular ingredient by tasting it is useful when thinking of substitutions made necessary because of availability, for example. A dish might then take on a life unique to its American place, but still respect its traditional origin and flavor base.

Watch this NBC Latino clip of Maricel Presilla, culinary historian, chef, and author of Gran Cocina Latina, as she demonstrates how to make baked rice with hearts of palm.

Latinos, Latin Flavors, and American Foodservice: A Convergence of Trends and Opportunities

With a population of more than 50 million, Latinos today constitute our nation's largest minority. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, between now and 2050 (when it is projected that fully one-half of the U.S. population will be people of color) the size of the Latino population is expected to swell to 102.6 million. At that point, Latinos will represent 24 percent of the U.S. population, a projected increase of 188 percent in just 50 years.

These numbers not only illustrate how rapidly the U.S. population is shifting, they also foreshadow significant changes ahead for the American foodservice industry, including the extent to which food and beverage marketing, menu development, and training will need to evolve to stay ahead of these seismic changes in demographics.

Save the date for the 2013 Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Leadership Symposium, which will take place October 2-4, 2013.