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“There is no better way to travel than to eat, and there is no better way to eat than to travel.” Imagine touring Spain, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and Cuba with the author of these words, Jose Garces, as your guide, hand-selecting all your meals, making sure that you come away from each stop having tasted the best each destination has to offer. Although this is not a tour that’s available, at least not to the general public, Garces’ latest travelogue-cookbook, The Latin Road Home, creates a similarly vibrant sensory experience.
“Those who know me joke that as soon as I start planning a vacation, they start researching the cuisine of the place,” says Garces in an email to City Paper. “Because they know I’ll be coming back with new recipes to try — and perhaps an entirely new restaurant concept.” Garces’ journey includes a host of international detours and, with them, the taste memories that shaped his stable of restaurants.
Beginning with Garces’ grandmother, Mamita Amada, the chef’s path into the kitchen started at an early age, and led to a career that included internships in Spain discovering the dishes that now grace the menus of Amada and Tinto. Cuban cuisine comes into play via Garces’ wife, Beatriz, whose family hails from the Caribbean island. Meanwhile, Mexico and Peru are two locales that serve as constant inspiration, whether enjoyed in taco form at Distrito or via Chifa’s bright ceviches.
Latin influence is a theme that shines through in all of Garces’ ventures, and a few key ingredients tie these diverse culinary cultures together. “Latin cuisine,” he writes, “wherever you are, tends to employ rice, so knowing how to work with rice is a critical skill for any would-be Latin chef. Chiles, too, turn up a lot, and many different ways: hot and spicy, lending pop to ceviches; roasted and ground into pastes, for depth and richness and preserved by canning. Each country’s cuisine brings so much history, so many traditional ways of doing things, that while their roots may be similar, they are in fact entirely distinct.”
Rice and chiles are two elements that come into play again and again by way of Moros y Cristianos, hearty Cuban black beans and rice, and canguil, chile-flecked popcorn from Ecuador.
Garces has organized the recipes within The Latin Road Home into complete meals, shared experiences meant to evoke the destinations that inspired them. Each country’s chapter comes complete with not only cocktails and dessert recipes, but a map and travel crib sheet.
So while a trip to Lima with Garces might not be happening anytime soon, traveling the pages of Garces’ recipes like lomo saltado, a Peruvian soy-stir-fried beef dish, provides an avenue to the Latin road home, wherever your home may be.