Charlotte – A Hispanic chef in North Carolina is touting the perfect formula for a fusion of traditional southern cooking with the flavors of Latin American gastronomy.
With the 150 original recipes in "The New Southern-Latino Table," Philadelphia-born Sandra Gutierrez unveils a whole new culinary movement.
"It's not the same as what happened in southwestern states like Texas, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, whose cuisine had just one influence, Mexican - this one comes from 21 different countries in Latin America, with some very similar points but with tremendous diversity," the writer told Efe.
Gutierrez grew up in her parents' native Guatemala, where at age 5 she began to prepare a mixture of tamales in the kitchen of Grandma and Aunt Maria.
According to Gutierrez, in their house it was "natural" to eat hamburgers one day and tamales the next, brownies and arroz con leche and buñuelos, or to celebrate All Souls Day with fiambre, or Thanksgiving with turkey and cranberry sauce.
I grew up in a bicultural environment, going to an American school, and at first I didn't take to cooking because I wanted to be a writer, but when I moved to North Carolina 30 years ago I fell in love with the place and its gastronomy," the 46-year-old author said.
She remembers she couldn't find the ingredients she needed to make her favorite dishes so she had to start "experimenting" with new flavors and aromas until finally she got to known them.
"My kids grew up on tamales stuffed with collard greens," she said. "I can't see myself now cooking either strictly Latin or strictly southern. Like other Latinos who have lived in this part of the country, I don't put a wall between the two cultures," she said.
The expert said that the blend of Latin and southern cuisines began 20 years ago with the arrival of immigrants in the area.
"It wasn't invented in restaurants, but rather in the homes of Hispanics and southerners. The two communities were getting to know each other and they had a lot more in common than they originally thought," she said.
At local fairs and festivals in the South, it's common enough to find churros and burritos on sale alongside the traditional hot dogs, donuts and funnel cake.
"We use the same ingredients like corn, nuts, tomatoes, pork, beans, sugar, pumpkins, potatoes, and cooking techniques like frying, barbecue, stews and roasting," she said.
In her recipes, which go from appetizers to dessert, Gutierrez smoothly gives Latin spice to typical southern dishes like fried chicken by adding tomato-and-chipotle salsa, or vice versa, stuffing chili peppers with paprika cheese.
"What I try to do is embrace both cultures, combine them and put them on the table where there are no controversies, a place where no one is different, where something brings us all together, the passion for good food," the author said.