Saturday, December 21, 2019

Cobaya Amarilla with Chefs Santiago Gomez and Carlos Garcia

One of our goals with the Cobaya dinner group is to provide an alternative to the typical restaurant experience, but even so, most of the time we're doing it within restaurants. We're usually working with restaurant chefs, they've already got their space and equipment and crew, and it's a whole lot easier for everyone. But some of our most interesting experiences come when we get out of the restaurants, despite – or maybe in part because of – the challenges and constraints.

Santiago Gomez is the chef of high-end Mexican spot Cantina la Veinte in Brickell and its fast casual sibling, Tacology. Carlos Garcia – who hosted us earlier this year for Cobaya Experiment #77 – is the chef of Obra, and one of Venezuela's top chefs. When they're not in their restaurants, they like to host private dinners together at Gomez's home - "La Casa Amarilla." (And on top of that, Gomez and his wife Camila Basmagi started a non-profit called "Recipes for Change" which organizes cooking events, workshops and fundraisers to help feed at-risk communities - more on that below).

(continued ...)

They opened their home to thirty Cobaya guinea pigs this past Sunday, where we sat at a long table in the backyard while Santiago and Carlos cooked at a charcoal and wood fired open kitchen. It was a wonderful setting on a perfect Miami winter evening, and the food was full of subtle and delicious surprises.

To start, a ceviche. in the style of a Veracruzan vuelve a la vida: a mix of seafood chopped into smallish pieces, swimming in a dense tomato broth. I used to dismiss this style of ceviche as just a shrimp cocktail in another guise, but I've grown increasingly fond of it and this was a really nice rendition – the sweet-tart of the tomato playing up the sweetness of the seafood, the inflection of chile heat, the charred shishito pepper on top, the crispy tostada for scooping.

Next, ensalada – another simple looking dish that was more than it appeared to be. On the plate, some fat, juicy heirloom tomatoes, slivers of watermelon radish, fresh basil leaves, a scattering of chicharrones. All fine. But the tomatoes had been marinated with citrus, the perfume of which revealed itself with each bite, the chicharrones had a whiff of smoke, and every bite brought a little surprise. It was a great tomato salad.

Chef Garcia then made his way around the long table to show off a massive pan of vegetable paella, before individual portions were plated. It was delicious: tender, creamy rice, flecked with mushrooms and dark olives, enriched with a generous drizzle of aioli before serving. My only regret was not trying to find that pan to see if there was any crispy socarrat to pick at.

Chef Gomez then came out with a sheet pan of roasted lamb legs that may weighed as much as himself. Cooked for hours until tender, it was plated with sauce that mingled its juices with ruddy chiles, and some salt-crusted potatoes cooked over the wood fire. Simple and satisfying and one of my favorite ways to eat lamb.

For dessert, an ice cream sandwich of sorts: a brioche bun stuffed with a quenelle of vivid magenta-hued beet ice cream, all doused with chocolate sauce. I am a big fan of beets, and thought this was just wonderful.

Chefs Santiago and Carlos do great things at their respective restaurants every day. But this was a different kind of experience, and I'm tremendously grateful to them for hosting it, and to Santiago and his wife Camila for inviting us into their home. I'd also like to say an extra word about Recipes for Change: they regularly bring groups of chefs to cook at Camillus House, they organize workshops and educational programs in the Miami community, and they host fundraisers to support efforts to address food insecurity. If you'd like to volunteer or donate, follow that link for more information, they are doing good things for our community.

Also, if you'd like to try a smaller scale version of what you see here, La Casa Amarilla hosts private dinners on Monday nights for groups of eight. More info on their instagram: @lasasaamarillamiami.

As always, thank you to Chef Santiago Gomez, Chef Carlos Garcia, Camila Basmagi, all of their team Sunday night, all of the sponsors who helped provided supplies, and as always most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support make these events possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment