Monterrey, Nuevo León, One of Mexico’s largest and diverse cities, was once again the setting for NACUFS Pacific Region, Mexican Culinary Workshop; Maiz, Frijol, y Chile (corn, beans, and chilies for you gringos). Ten chefs including myself, and administrators from the nations top schools gathered at the distinguished Tecnologico de Monterrey (aka Tec), along with another dozen or so extremely hospitable staff and chefs from the Tec, made up this year’s group. I cannot begin to stress how friendly and helpful Gabriella, Adolfo, and the rest of the team were throughout the entire trip, especially around a bunch of chefs, egos and all, and most, myself included, lacking the proper Spanish vocabulary skills. So thank you again for your self-less time and first class service.
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Above: Market staples; garlic, tamarind, piloncillo (sugar cane), and guajillo chilies.

Day One
After downing a few beers, and throwing down a couple of incredible tacos, getting over the “wow factor” of being in not only a different country, but an absolutely beautiful city, it was time to learn a few things and get down to business. What better way than taking a visit to a local market.

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Above; more chilies, spices, and an employee at a local tortilleria
Not exactly like the vast open markets I’ve seen in Europe or even Southern California, but definitely the place to go for meat, spices, produce, and your daily fix of hand made tortillas. Very clean, very friendly people everywhere, seemed to be the theme of the entire trip.

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Working up an appetite, For our first lunch we literally ate in a garage turned makeshift restaurant. The food was delicious, and amazingly fresh. Handmade enchiladas, gorditas, and taquitos. The head chef’s pride and spirit filled the entire crowded room, plate after empty plate, I can still see his beaming smile, pristine chef jacket and all, something totally unexpected but delightful nonetheless.

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Not too soon after lunch, we headed to a local culinary and hospitality school, who work in tandem with the Tec. This would be our home base for the week, as we would prepare for our first course of study, chilies!

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Many cooks, whether home or professional, know that removing the inner seeds and pith of chilies will dilute some of the heat. What I didn’t know (here’s a tip) is that there are other ways of not only mellowing, but sweetening the taste of any overly spicy pepper. Go down to your local Mexican market (don’t be shy). Pick up some piloncillo…what the heck is that, you may be asking, it’s pure Mexican sugar cane boiled down into a cone like shape. Take a few cups of water, a chunk of piloncillo and some brown sugar, boil the water until the sugars dissolve. Meanwhile, cut open your chilies and remove any unwanted seeds. Let the water come to room temperature. Place the chilies in the syrup for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. After several hours the syrup will engulf the chilies, and the burn will be dramatically mellowed out. For me, this right here, was worth the price of admission. Being a chef in Southern California, I’m constantly surrounded by outstanding Mexican cuisine, it was just a breath of fresh air to learn a few new techniques.

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Above: Salsas made in traditional Molcahete (mortar and pestle)
Chile picadillo, guajillo chile y queso panela, chilacas in masa azul (chili relleno in blue corn), chile y machaca (dried beef), and chile poppers con tocino (bacon)

After wrapping up in the kitchen for the day and later being inspired by talks from local and very passionate chefs, we spent the evening at EXPOTEC, an annual event where students present over 60 regional and international stands, including a multi-regional culinary Exhibition from different areas of Mexico, Central, and South America. Tons of great food and plenty of cheap beers made for an excellent night…

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Day 2 Frijols y Maiz (beans and corn)

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Ahh…nothing beats a long night of eating greasy (although delicious) food, and several giant sized beers, than waking up early to this…What is this you might ask? Just a little sample of some local delicacies; Escamoles (ant larvae), Chapulines (grasshoppers), and last but not least, Gusanos de Maguey (Maguey worms). Apparently these little guys don’t come cheap, people pay up to 1800 pesos/kilo (about $500 a pound!) Nothing against tradition, and I appreciate that they even made them into tacos, but it could have waited till after breakfast, or even lunch.

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So after a light breakfast…gulp…we once again broke into teams and began whipping up the planned recipes for the day. Mexican food has always been at the top of my list. A lot of these dishes I’ve had before, numerous times, but again it was learning new techniques which made all the difference. Whether it was making a simple yet delicious salsa from scratch, to hand pressing the fresh masa into tortillas, or burning my fingertips from crimping the edges of the sopes, it seemed to connect on all levels of creativity for me and my peers.

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On the agenda for the day; tlacoyos, a thick corn tortilla, fried, topped with black bean, cactus, panela cheese, and salsa. Sopes (fried corn boats) with chorizo, beans, and ancho chile salsa. Flautas de pollo (chicken flautas). Traditional enchiladas, first fried in oil, then dipped in salsa guajillo. Gorditas with cheese and potato. Along with tamales, and my personal favorite, Chilaquiles. Probably the simplest and most delicious I have ever had. Chilaquiles is basically a comfort food casserole, gaining in popularity for weekend brunch, most restaurants will get the most bang for their buck by using leftover tortillas, salsa, etc. The key for this recipe however, was using all fresh ingredients, as well as boiling hot salsa (to keep the chips crisp, not soggy) over fresh chips with plenty of cheese, smoky Gouda to be exact…my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

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Later in the afternoon, each team was given a mystery basket of sorts to come up with several original recipes, based on what we had learned so far. One of the more unusual ingredients for most of us was a peculiar black fungus (think mushroom) that only grows on corn, known as cuitlacoche (pictured below). Growing up in Nebraska, I’d seen my fair share of corn, and corn fungus. Never did I realize that it could be edible, let alone a delicacy.

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Cuitlacoche, a peculiar fungus

Our team decided to go with a masa based empanada, stuffed with machaca ( dried beef, a popular regional treat), and cheese, we flavored the masa with cilantro purée, and ancho purée, giving a two tone green and red hue. Also, we added a fresh tomatillo salsa and slaw, to cut the richness. Francisco, the head pastry chef at the Tec, blew our minds and made a dessert out of the fungus! He made a delicious cake, similar to a sweet corn bread, and made a caramel sauce with the cuitlacoche. It was somewhere between genius and crazy, but it actually worked, and tasted pretty good!

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The surprisingly good fungus cake, and some of the other teams dishes.

Day 3, Lunch for 400 new friends
On the third day of our conference our team helped the staff prepare and serve lunch for the campus staff, faculty, students, and local community. The menu consisted of many traditional regional dishes, most of which were centered around the theme of the conference. We more or less were getting in the way of Chef Antonio’s staff, but in good spirits, they put us to work. I was picked for the dessert team, typically not my strong suit, but I was in good hands, after stuffing around 400 sweet tamales, I felt I had helped if not a little bit.

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Clockwise; sweet bean tamales, spinach salad with almond, panela cheese, and guajillo vinaigrette, Mexican fruit salad, chiles en Nogada, usually reserved for very special occasions

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Clockwise; clay pots for Cafe de la olla, Cuitlacoche (fungus) lasagna, one of the many amazing salsas, pan de elote (corn bread)
From the looks of their empty plates, everyone seemed to really enjoy the lunch. Towards the end, we were all introduced to the crowd, they were even kind enough to put us in the local paper.
Here’s a quick video of the lunch.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLU8IE3LimI

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Discovering the city
Monterrey is truly an incredible place. With the backdrop of the Sierra Madres, and a sprawling city center, you didn’t need to look far to see its natural beauty mixed with a youthful up and coming vibe.

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Statues within the city center

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Backdrops of the mountains on campus.

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Amazing chalk art murals.

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Foundry Park.

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More great views of the city.

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Tequila and Mezcal (informative and delicious) tasting at Vinoteca!

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Exhibit at the Modern art museum

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El Rey del Cabrito! Head to tail roasted baby goat.

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Market on the way to Guadalupe.

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The excellent staff.

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One last view of the city before flying out.

Needless to say this trip had a great impact on me. Experiencing a different culture, learning new techniques, and making new friends, what more could I have asked for. The service that the staff showed was above and beyond amazing, and kudos goes to all involved on the NACUFS side. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to experience this city again sometime, and highly recommend it to anyone else looking to travel south. Thank you for letting me share this with you all, don’t forget to follow this blog for more updates, until next time, cheers!
Chef Bryce Benes

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Maiz, Frijol, y Chile. A Mexican culinary workshop

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I’m not an expert on beer nor do I claim to be. I don’t brew my own beer(yet) nor do I belong to an exclusive brewing society. I am however, like many people a fan. I show my support of craft breweries on an almost daily basis. As most fans of craft beer know, beer is seasonal and some beers are only offered during certain times of the year. This still being the early stages of the fall season, we as consumers are wandering in the calm of what will soon be the onslaught to a perfect storm of pumpkin flavored everything, “psl” for you trendier readers. I’ve had my fair share of of Pumpkin beers both good and bad. Here are five beers, all brewed in California, all brewed with pumpkin that I thought I would share with you. Why five beers? Because I couldn’t carry six…Why only California beers? I don’t know, because I live here I guess. Obviously there are hundreds of great breweries out there that make great pumpkin beers, probably better than the ones on this list. My suggestion, if you’re feeling festive, and want to indulge in the tastes of the season, pour that awful Shock Top garbage down the drain, and be a little more adventurous, or not, and try something new, it may not be a pillowcase full of chocolates, but as adults, it may be the next best thing to trick or treating…Happy Halloween!

A quick note, I’ll be listing the beers in order of my enjoyment, with the first being okay and the last being amazing. Also I’ll be including the descriptions from each breweries’ website. Cheers!

Black Market Brewing Co. Temecula CA
Superstition
6.8%abv

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Superstition is a Pumpkin Spice Ale brewed with the perfect amounts of malt, hops, spices and of course pumpkin. Nothing brings the comfort of Fall better than a nice cold glass of Superstition. If you are really daring, try Superstition by consuming it in a glass rimmed with pure maple syrup and cinnamon sugar. It’s like drinking pumpkin pie in a bottle.
score: 3 out of 5
Bootlegger’s Brewery Fullerton CA
Pumpkin Ale
6.1%abv

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Pumpkin Ale is our Fall Seasonal Release Beer. Brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, molasses, brown sugar and real pumpkin juice to create this special beer. A beer that reminds us of coming home to family and getting the fresh pumpkin pies out of the oven. A perfect beer to sit back and relax with while watching the leaves change color in the fall.
score 3.2 out of 5. Of the five, this one has the most pronounced pumpkin flavor.

Coronado Brewing Company. San Diego CA
Punk’in Drublic
8% abv

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Brewed with brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and a heaping helping of would be jack-o-lanterns, Punk’in Drublic delivers autumn’s trademark flavors along with a hint of West Coast character, whether enjoyed in a pumpkin patch or on the beach.
score 3.5 out of 5. Great beer, bonus points for being named after punk band NOFX
The Bruery. Placentia CA
Ignis Fatuus
8.3%abv

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Ignis Fatuus is a special brew created just in time for Autumn activities. The base is a rich, robust porter that was brewed with an addition of puréed pumpkins. Like all great pumpkin recipes, we then added a subtle addition of seasonal spices to balance with the roasty character. We invite you to enjoy the nuanced flavors while telling ghost stories around an illuminating jack-o’-lantern.
score 3.6 out of 5. Hard to find, delicious and dark

Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Boonville CA
Pinchy Jeek Barl.
7.0%abv

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Aged for 6 months in Wild Turkey® barrels, this bourbon barrel-aged pumpkin ale is pleasantly creamy with a silky body and sweet caramel flavor. The aging process imparts notes of coconut, vanilla, and oak to compliment the tang of the spices and a hint of hops, all wrapped in a smooth, round finish.
score 4 out of 5. This beer was hands down my favorite. Easy drinking porter, smooth vanilla, with a hint of the barrels, I definitely recommend picking up a couple of bottles before they’re gone. Delicious, a must have at all costume parties this year.

The Great Pumpkin! Five pumpkin beers from California worth giving a try.

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave, or you’re not into beer, or if you are into beer, it’s the yellow fizzy mass produced stuff, God forbid…then you are probably aware of the rise in popularity of craft beer. What is craft beer? Basically it’s real beer, made by real people, with a real story, with real, quality ingredients…beer with a soul some might say.

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California craft beers
The line up for this class included beers from Bottle Logic, Golden Road, Cismontane, Saint Archer, and Stone Breweries.
I’ll include a link to each brewery throughout this post. I highly recommend checking them out, especially if you’re in Southern California.
A few notes about pairing food with beer
Start with lighter beers, hefenweizen and wit beers make for great companions with lighter fare such as salads and fish. Gradually build up stronger flavored foods with stronger beers, lagers, ambers, pale ales, and IPAs go great with heartier meats, fried and spicy foods…ccheck out www.craftbeer.com for more info on pairing suggestions.

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Candied bacon wrapped brats!
Made and paired with Golden Road Brewery’s 329 Days of of Sun Lager.

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Smoky beer cheese fondue with warm pretzels
We also made and paired these with 329 Days of Sun Lager.
The lager cuts right through the fattiness of the brats and the cheesy fondue
If you’re a fan of Bud, Miller, or Coors, I recommend checking this great beer out as an alternative.
Check out the brewery here! http://www.goldenroad.la/
Pale ales and IPAs go hand in hand with rich and spicy foods. The bitter and hoppy notes will cut right through the spice and richness, and when the two worlds combine, you’ll wonder how you ever lived this long without being part of such a wonder ours combination…

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Pasta with spicy beer-tomato sauce
We paired this dish with Holy Jim Falls XPA from http://www.cismontanebrewing.com/home/
A smooth easy drinking California pale ale. Cismontane is located in Rancho Santa Margarita CA, a great local OC brewery, which names most of their brews after famous local landmarks.

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Fried Chicken Sliders with pickled Peaches
This recipe is from the amazing Beeroness blog. http://thebeeroness.com/
I highly recommend checking this humorous blog out for some amazing insight and recipes with craft beer.
The chicken, brined with buttermilk and beer, Saint Archer IPA in this case, was extremely crunchy and full of flavor. The pickled peaches were on another level, simple and delicious.
http://www.saintarcherbrewery.com/ is a relatively new brewery based out of San Diego, with a great line up of craft beers. Comprised of fourteen owners hailing from the surfing, skating, and entertainment world, it’s definitely a brewery worth checking out.

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Chocolate Stout Brownies paired with Stone Milk Stout Ice Cream Floats
Chocolate and stout are best friends, soul mates, kindred spirits, and lovers. When a stout or porter style beer is made, the barley malt is roasted, similar to coffee, and naturally the result is a strong chocolate or coffee like aroma and flavor. One misconception with most stouts is that it’s a heavy, filling beer, in fact most stouts are actually lighter and have less calories than most beers. A 12oz bottle of Guinness for example, only has about 120 calories, where as a bottle of IPA may have around 200 calories.
For this dessert I used Stone’s new milk stout, which is a light, refreshing stout, not too sweet or hoppy, which Stone is know for, whether it’s their Arrogant Bastard ale, or one of their latest collaborations. If you have a free day, go out to Escondido to the Stone bistro and gardens it’s a beautiful venue, full of amazing food and craft beers. http://www.stonebrewing.com/
Until next time, cheers!
-Chef Bryce Benes

Drink your craft beer, and eat it too!

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Growing up in Nebraska, eating fresh seafood was about as common as eating chili and cinnamon rolls in Orange County, yes that’s a real thing and yes it’s amazing! Eating at the local Red Lobster was about as close as you were gonna get, and I only remember eating there once when I was a kid. I do have memories of my dad randomly bringing in lobsters from a friend at work, one time he even brought home shark meat, and what did he make with it? Shark chili of course! (I actually remember it tasting great) And yes there would be the occasional carp or cat fish dinner (locally sourced from a nearby lake of course), and fish frys during lent. My point is that for the most part cooking and eating fresh seafood was pretty much a nonexistent part of my upbringing in cow country. I didn’t try sushi until I was in college, and hadn’t cooked as much as a piece of salmon up until that point either. By the time I moved to California I realized I was a little late to the party, and had much to catch up on.
When I was presented with the challenge of cooking a large amount of fish for the first time in my culinary career I’ll admit, it was intimidating and unnerving to say the least, but as with most anything, the more I did it, the better I got…or I should say the more I totally screwed it up, the more I learned, and eventually, it got easier, and I got better at it.
Some of you may be at the point where you really want to learn how to cook the perfect piece of fish, but think you don’t have the skills to pull it off…I have good news for you, cooking fish is way more easier than you think it is! It’s no more difficult than grilling a steak or roasting a chicken( some of you are probably thinking, crap I can’t even do that.)
Keep it simple, stick with what you know
I’m sure most of you have no problem firing up your grill and throwing down some burgers or a nice thick steak. Grilling fish isn’t much different! Start with a hot, clean, and oiled grill. Next, season your fish. Keep it simple; a little salt and pepper, lemon juice, some fresh herbs, and you’re good to go. A few minutes on either side, cook it until it reaches 140 degrees internally, let rest for a few minutes! and voila! A perfectly grilled piece of fish awaits…make a simple relish or butter sauce like a beurre blanc to tie it all together. Don’t overthink it!

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seared salmon with heirloom tomato Nicoise relish and grilled asparagus

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Searing the perfect scallop
Searing scallops is simple to do. Trust me. Of course you’ll need a few things to be successful.
First, make sure your scallops are dry, blot with paper towels if needed.
Next, have a nice hot pan, preferably cast iron.
Have plenty of oil, or my personal preference clarified butter. Vegetable oil works best for its high smoke point, as does clarified butter. Avoid olive oil as it may easily burn.
Of course practice makes perfect, but don’t be intimidated. A quick sear, about 90 seconds per side, and you’ll have a nice golden brown scallop. Don’t overcrowd your pan, deglaze your pan with a little white wine and butter for a quick sauce, and don’t forget the salt and pepper. Let rest a minute or two, but eat right away as they don’t have a very long shelf life after they’ve been cooked.

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Black mussels steamed in beer with herbs and spices
Steamed mussels is one of the easiest yet rewarding seafood dishes to make. They literally only take a few minutes to cook, after chopping up some fresh herbs and tomatoes, and developing a simple hearty broth. whether you prefer a Belgian style beer or a nice white wine as a base, you can’t go wrong. Grill up some French bread to soak up the savory broth and that’s pretty much all you need. Just remember to discard any mussels that don’t open after cooking. And always make sure you get you seafood from a reliable source, lucky for us in Southern California we have plenty of options, personally I like Santa Monica Seafoods in Costa Mesa.
If you would like to receive recipes for any of the dishes above let me know. Thanks again for checking out my blog. Feel free to leave feedback and tell you friends!
Chef Bryce Benes

Seafood…as easy as 1, 2, 3

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So last Saturday was my annual summer grilling and chilling class. This year featured a lot of new recipes, techniques, and new faces. What better time to fire up those barbecues, than now, whether you prefer gas or charcoal, dry rub or marinade, medium rare or well done(not too well done) and remember, it’s not just about the meat, when it’s comes to grilling, your options are pretty much endless, whether it’s for meat, veggies, desserts, or heck, even a salad. Mastering the grill is a great weapon to have in your arsenal of culinary skills.

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Whether you prefer gas or charcoal, keep these three things in mind;
1) keep it hot, with charcoal, make sure those babies are white hot!
2) keep it clean, if you don’t have a grill scraper, a wad of foil will do.
3) keep it lubricated. Veg oil with a towel works, careful with cooking spray, a little flame up and say good bye to those arm hairs…

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Making the most out of you meat
Marinades, dry rubs, brines have two purposes; adding flavor, and making foods tender and moist.
Always make sure your meat is completely dry before adding any marinade.
The longer, the better. Marinade your meat for at least an hour, ideally overnight. The tougher cut of meat you have, the more time you’ll want the acids in the marinade to break down the tough tissue.
Pictured above are lamb kebabs, made from the leg meat, which have been marinated in yogurt and spices. Yogurt makes a great marinade adding even more flavor and tenderness to the lamb.
Always let your meat rest for about ten minutes before cutting into it.
Take your meat off the grill, drink a beer, take a walk, have a smoke, whatever, just don’t touch your meat, let it rest!
Cutting into it right away will cause all of the juices to bleed out, leaving you with a sad and dry excuse of a piece of meat you worked so hard for.

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Don’t let the smiles fool you…these two can do some serious damage on a BBQ

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Homer Simpson said it best, “you don’t win friends with salad”
Well, this grilled romaine may just prove him wrong. Adding a quick char to the lettuce adds another element of flavor to this simple salad, tossed with a light balsamic dressing, crispy bacon, and feta cheese.
By the time I took this picture, all but one remained…vultures…

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Vegetarian tacos, featuring fire roasted chilies, seasoned portobellos, cotija, and lime.
Roast a bell pepper for about 10 minutes until it gets nice and charred. Throw it in a plastic bag and let cool. Peel the burned skin and rinse. You now have roasted peppers, which are far superior to their raw counterparts.

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If you’ve never grilled fruit before, I would highly recommend it. These juicy ripe peaches would have been just fine by themselves on a hot grill. The carmelization of the sugars intensifies the natural sweetness. We decided to add a little cinnamon and sugar, grabbed a cast iron skillet, and after about 45 minutes, appeared a simple yet delicious cobbler. Add a little vanilla ice cream and, as a little man with spiky bleach blond hair on the food network would say, “that’s on a one way street to flavor town!”
Until next time, remember, let that meat rest!
Cheers,
Chef Bryce Benes

Fire up that grill!

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