words GRACE S. YEK, CCC, M.S. | photography DEOGRACIAS LERMA

On a clear evening in late winter, two shimmering stars descended onto the 84.51º longitude, converging at Mita’s. Jose Salazar and Anthony Lamas merged culinary brilliance on the twelfth evening in March to create a memorable Latin-American dinner, paired with wines from Spain.

Jose Salazar and Anthony Lamas. The jamon bellota mounted on a jamonera sits to the right.

Jose Salazar and Anthony Lamas. The jamon bellota mounted on a jamonera sits to the right.

Both chefs carry serious star power: Salazar is a James Beard Award nominee, and so is Anthony Lamas – three times over, in fact. Salazar, known for his refined culinary style, owns two acclaimed restaurants in Cincinnati: the farm-inspired Salazar OTR, and Mita’s, a restaurant that embraces the cuisines of Spain and Latin America.

Aside from impressive résumés, the two chefs share something else even more profound: their Latin heritage. Lamas has both Puerto Rican and Mexican blood, and Salazar’s roots go all the way to Medellin, Colombia.

Salazar and Lamas are simpatico in many ways. At one point, they even unconsciously crossed their left feet in front of their right in unison, as they stood side-by-side at the “expo” (expediting) table.

But as much as they have in common, their culinary styles cannot be conveniently lumped together as simply “Latin style.” Salazar, who initiated this collaboration, said, “We have somewhat similar styles, but his (Lamas) is a little more ‘the South meets Latin America.’ Mine is a little more ‘Spain meets Latin America’.”

As Salazar spoke, one of his tapas, jamon bellota (a Spanish ham), basked in the bright light of the open kitchen. The prized ham is made from free-roaming black pigs that forage on plenty of bellotas (acorns).

Lamas echoed the differences between his and Salazar’s cooking. “I love what Jose is doing here, showing Latin flavors in a refined way. I use more spice, and my flavors are bold and bright.” Lamas’ flagship restaurant, Seviche, in Louisville, Kentucky, is known for marrying bold Latin flavors with Southern ingredients.

IMG_8616 copyThirty minutes before the first seating, Lamas demonstrated the plating for the first course, Tuna Tiradito. The dish illustrated his style perfectly. The bright yuzu sauce, green apples, celery and flecks of sea salt danced on the translucent tuna – each component punching up the zest and color. The aji amarillo pepper had the last dance, tapping the dish with a sunny yet gentle heat.

Lamas went on to demonstrate the plating for Nuevo Latino Shrimp and Grits. The kitchen brigade stood erect, arms tucked behind, with some peering to visually register every nuance on the plate. Lamas reached for the Weisenberger grits (from Kentucky), that had been cooked with poblano pepper and manchego cheese. He carefully spooned the grits into the deep plate to create a bed, over which, he arranged three pieces of adobo-infused shrimp. Lamas finished the plate with lemon-tomato butter sauce, and a smattering of micro chervil.

Meanwhile, Salazar showed his garde manger (cold station) cook how to best serve the assortment of artisanal bread alongside romesco sauce and extra virgin olive oil. He moved the kitchen along to ensure timeliness. Salazar constantly made sure that Lamas, who was a guest in his kitchen, had everything he needed, down to room-temperature Brussels sprout leaves.

Lamas proceeded to demonstrate the plating for the duck course. He carefully mounded the medley of Carolina gold rice and sea island peas on the plate, and crushed duck skin chicharrones over the top. On the other side of the plate, he dribbled a spoonful of demi glace, and gingerly placed the duck breast on top of it. Lamas finished with a little sea salt, and as he looked at Salazar, he said, “I think we’re good like that Chef. Just straight forward.”

Jose Salazar and Anthony Lamas lead the pre-service meeting with the front-of-the-house.

Jose Salazar and Anthony Lamas lead the pre-service meeting with the front-of-the-house.

A few minutes before the first seating, the two chefs left the kitchen to meet with the servers in the dining area. They briefed the front-of-the-house staff on each course. As the discussion wound down, everyone’s attention turned to the dessert course.

Brian Neumann, the pastry chef, piped up. “It’s a ginger cake with cocoa in it; gives it a nice depth of flavor,” he explained. Neumann had also incorporated some stout into the cake to add complexity. The plate was fully composed with crema mousse, candied carrots, and a sherbet of sour orange and carrot.

Moments later, guests began to arrive, and the kitchen printer started to buzz as it shot out orders. The kitchen crew locked into gear, and moved quickly and methodically.

As the evening progressed, both chefs looked like they were really having a good time. Salazar was walk-dancing to the music, and Lamas was smiling a lot.

Salazar let me in on his plans. “We plan on doing many collaborations,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. He wants to continue collaborating locally and regionally to highlight this area. “This isn’t flyover country,” Salazar said adamantly.

If Salazar has his way, look for more stars to descend on the 84.51º building, and converging at the splendor that is Mita’s.

 

 

 


 

Grace Yek, food editor at Polly Magazine, is a certified chef de cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer.

Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.