The success of high-end Latin restaurants, showcasing regional
variations of Mexican and other Latin cuisines, is helping educate Americans about the sophistication of Latin dishes and stimulating a desire to try them. People used to “think that every country in Latin America ate tacos,” Woodman points out, but now they’re “beginning to realize that each country has their own cuisine, and they’re all quite different.” Yossi Ohayon, founder and executive chef of Culinary Art Catering in Dallas, who serves Mexican food three or more times a week, serves a clientele that wants “newer” Mexican cuisine, not the street tacos sold at any gas station. “It’s a symphony of flavor,” he says, explaining its broad appeal. He also sees demand for long-cooking, old-fashioned fare, such as carnitas. With its spiciness and suitability for interactive formats, factors so favorable with millennial diners, Latin food is likely to be welcome at catering operations here for a long time, regardless of immigration policy. Sometimes staying authentic but often reinterpreting, chefs are adopting it and making it their own.
At Janet O’Brien Caterers + Events in the Hamptons and New York City, where Latin food has been a specialty for 10 years, it continues to grow “hugely,” according to Janet O’Brien, owner/president, who credits its popularity in part to the “wonderful Latino influence among us,” particularly the Latinos who run restaurant and catering kitchens all over America. Among those staffing her own kitchen are Argentineans, Colombians, Guatemalans and Mexicans. And while O’Brien designs the menus, she says “the hands that make the food make the difference.” Strong interest there in Brazilian food five or six years ago has slowed, and Mexican remains the major Latin attraction, its freshness and simplicity appealing to a high-end clientele who considers it both delicious and healthy. Located in Miami, a hub of Latin culture, Joy Wallace Food. Design. Experience serves a lot of Latin cuisine, but it’s primarily Argentinean, Brazilian, Cuban, Peruvian and Venezuelan, rather than Mexican, explains Elgin Woodman, corporate executive chef. A “huge influx of Venezuelans during the last three to five years” has made arepas a staple. A lot of the company’s Latin business comes from destination weddings and corporate visitors, including requests for Havana-themed nights—complete with roasted pig, paella, cigar-rollers and Latin dancers.
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