In Ancestral Flavors, chef Carlos Estévez and photographer Víctor Siladi answer that question with a thorough roundup that ranges from the gifts of our soil used by our aboriginals to contemporary street food, and includes the many migratory waves that left their imprint on our tables. Some of the most celebrated Dominican chefs —and many who were adopted by our country— used this roundup to give their own twist to all things ancestral, and created surprising recipes that showcase the potential in our flavors. Our local cuisine is in the middle of a breakthrough moment, and books such as this one shine a light on our collective pride for the abilities and the creativity of our chefs, as well as the generous, welcoming tolerance of our everyday dishes.
Chef Carlos J. Estévez came up with a dish that proudly represents one of the most longstanding and important legacies inherited from our Taíno ancestors: cassava. Present in our island for over eight centuries, this product has gained colossal importance for our people and its culinary traditions, from a historical, mystical and gastronomic perspective. In order to show its plentiful versatility and richness, he processed it to produce seven different textures.
Chef Emil Vega’s inspiration came from those rainy days that predict the need for a delicious creole sancocho. As the preparation of our signature national dish begins, greens are chopped, meat and poultry are marinaded, the cuts are drenched in bitter orange and then seasoned by expert hands that spice them in freshly made creole seasoning. The burners heat up and up go the hot pans. Hearty broth, freshly cut tubers… the aroma is intoxicating, and the kitchen begins to sing.
It is rather well known that pork is a main player in Spanish cuisine, and thus it had a latent presence in our country during our years of initial transculturation. In this sense, beans and broad beans —or “fabes”, as they’re mostly known— are greatly valued in our gastronomical practice, as a staple in the daily diet of the Dominican household. That’s why, with his heart divided between his two homes, chef Alberto Martín paid homage to both countries with his dish.
To chef Leandro Díaz, the Christmas season is inseparable from the joy of savoring a piece of crunchy and tasty pork crackling, served alongside a delicious cold beer. Christmas is a time to celebrate, a time for hope and renewal, and that is why no Dominican household can ever be short of a delicious roast suckling pig, a national delicacy whose flavor connects us to the world through its most important ingredient: family union.
To chef Noemí Díaz, each ingredient present in our mofongo stands for a piece in a magical puzzle. Together they make up a dish that shares a beautiful and timeless love story, where fascinating flavors converge, each of them highly cherished by our cultural tradition. Preparing this alluring dish requires passion, culture, love and memories… but it also merits a tip of the hat to the green plantain, an ever-present favorite of Dominicans, no matter their social standing.
To chef Saverio Stassi, the history of cheese in the Dominican Republic already represents one of the greatest expressions of its culinary culture. Through its production, we learn about the cultural influences, the wisdom, the traditions and the avant-garde notions that this product has been bringing to the table for centuries. With this dish, he aims to tell the story of these noble products that, time and time again, complement our table.
Chef Giancarlo Bonarelli’s dish was born on the long journey his family endured from Naples to Santo Domingo. Over in that European town, pasta, ram and ragu are traditional ingredients. Now, since goat meat used to replace ram until recently here in the Dominican Republic, he decided to create a dish with local ingredients and Neapolitan flavors, in order to honor the love he feels for his two homelands through culinary art.
Chef Solange Cid decided to pay homage to two icons of Dominican gastronomy that take her back to her childhood years. There’s our local breakfast bread, which she remembers from those days she would anxiously wait for the bread merchant to cross by, singing “Come and get your freshly baked bread!” Then there’s the telera, which seems to have been a part of Dominican Christmas traditions since forever, and continues to reign supreme during those memorable nights.
Dominicans have awoken to a new culinary dawn, learning about the myriad ingredients and dishes that define their cultural identity —and rice is indeed a “must have” in every Dominican household. Chef Mike Faxas feels the “asopao” dish has earned much praise, but he’s certain that his favorite underdog, the “locrio”, has the hidden versatility of paella or risotto. This recipe gives us the opportunity to truly appreciate the complexity of Dominican culture in a single dish.
Chef Ana Marranzini is still in awe of the moniker given to this Dominican culinary creation, enjoyed by children and adult of all ages nationwide. Our drunken cake should be promoted as a Made-in-the-DR delicacy, she says. This inspired her to take this traditional dish and, by combining different ingredients, coming up with an avant-garde version that still respects the cake’s original preparation techniques.
The driving force behind chef Ciro Casola’s proposal is the great love he feels for certain Dominican staples —such as green pigeon peas, a delicious legume present in almost every Dominican household, but more than anything, an ingredient that he personally enjoys cooking with. He hopes his unique creation will lure in many a curious patron and may conquer the tastebuds of locals and foreigners alike.
For his drink proposal, chef Ramón Acevedo decided to work with everyday, affordable and popular products. These ingredientes are highly cherished by the majority of Dominicans, and can be used to present a distinctive cocktail experience that will surely generate a new path from the local farm stand to the bar. This drink combines an attractive blend of flavors, colors and aromas that will help us learn to love the fruits of our land.
Chef Paulette Tejada agrees that, were we to have a culinary motto, it would be “spice is life.” Our recipes feature a vast variety of herbs, spices, peppers and citrus essences that subject our palates to an unparalleled sensory experience. She’s a fan of sharing stories that feature ingredients, so Tejada found inspiration for this dish in the countless possibilities where our spices, herbs and seasonings add that inimitable touch that enhances the colors of our Earth.
As a child, chef Martín Omar visited Lajas de Yaroa, a town located between Puerto Plata and Santiago —and also the reason for the name behind the delicacy found in our street cuisine, which has become quite popular all over the country in recent years. He was amazed at this singular expression of Dominican culinary creativity, and the moment he tried this flavorful supernova, he thought to himself: “The world needs to savor this dish.”
Chef Diana Munné knows that cacao is an essential component of our ancestral legacy, as Taínos enjoyed it as a beverage. She believes we cannot lose this flavorful tradition, which evokes so many cherished childhood memories of summers spent out in the countryside and chilly mornings enjoying a cup of hot cocoa and cocoa-dipped bread. To her, the aroma of spices merged with our Hispaniola cacao is one of those experiences we must carry forward as part of our legacy.
Chef Dévaki Pratt van der Linde’s inspiration came from using ingredients from pre-Columbian crops, our Taíno legacy, as well as soybean and its byproducts —which, though not originally grown locally, is still highly used nowadays in the vast array of culinary offers available locally and abroad, as it is an excellent meat substitute for those following a vegetarian regime.
Chef Inés Páez found her inspiration in one of the most popular dishes in the country, a melting pot resulting from the country’s early inhabitants mixing together with several migratory waves. According to the chef, the so-called “flag” is part of our identity anywhere in the world. It’s a long-awaited dish as the clock strikes noon, yearned by those who’ve left their home behind and who even then keep dreaming of a much-awaited return to relive the joy of all those longed-for flavors.
Each one of chef María Marte’s culinary creations features the Dominican Republic, her terroir, the memory of the food of her people and the values that make us who we are. That’s why her proposals highlight the magnificent Dominican flavors and textures that she carries around with her. Cassava represents our origins, and it was quite a challenge for Marte to take it to the next level in haute cuisine, therefore evoking our Taíno ancestors while paying tribute to our origins.
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