Lorena García: a Venezuelan chef in Las Vegas

This Latin American chef is now considered one of the top in the restaurant industry of the United States, one of the most competitive of the world

Lorena García: a Venezuelan chef in Las Vegas

 

Last Spring, the restaurant CHICA at The Venetian Las Vegas opened, featuring a menu crafted by Venezuelan chef Lorena García. As stated in the restaurant’s website, the menu “draws inspiration from classic renditions of Latin dishes, giving guests the opportunity to explore the flavors of Latin American cuisine as one culture, with influences from Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina, among many more”.

How did she manage to open a restaurant so heavily influenced by Latin culture in the Las Vegas Strip?

Garcia’s story could be qualified as remarkable. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, she first became fascinated with cooking and food as a little girl. However, she did not consider it as a profession until she was studying to become a lawyer and realized that law was not for her. She decided she wanted to take her passion for food to another level, so she enrolled in the culinary arts program of Johnson & Wales University, from where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

After years of traveling the world and taking cooking jobs pretty much everywhere, from Paris to Thailand, she returned to the United States and opened her first two restaurants in Miami, Food Café and Elements Tierra. In between the opening of these restaurants in 2002 and last year’s opening of CHICA, Garcia took other projects into her hands.

It has not only been about the kitchen

Garcia has worked on plenty projects different to opening restaurants and working in kitchens. She has also worked on different TV shows, in roles from writing to hosting to producing. She has also dedicated her life to bringing Latin American cuisine to other parts of the world, which is why she has focused on this gastronomy in her cookbook Lorena Garcia’s New Latin Classics. In her bio, Garcia has been described as a “restaurateur, TV personality, TV producer, philanthropist and published author”, which is why she can truly be called an ambassador of Latin American food.

What is her cooking like?

Since we cannot, sadly, send a tasting of Garcia’s dishes through your screen, here are a few recipes Garcia’s team has shared with the Latin American Post:

 

BUNUELOS With WHITE CHOCOLATE SAUCE AND BERRY COMPOTE

 

Source: Chef Lorena Garcia

Yield: 25 bunuelos

¾ cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Zest of 1 lemon

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup ricotta

2 eggbeaters

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons sugar

Vegetable oil for deep-frying (amount depends on the pot using)

Serve with white chocolate sauce + berry compote (see recipes below)

Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl. Combine the wet ingredients in another. In a heavy pot place enough oil that covers (4” from the bottom) for deep-frying and heat until it reaches 325 degrees. Scoop out dough with a spoon and drop into the 325-degree oil and fry until golden brown. Cook only 3-4 at a time, to not drop the temperature. Fry the dough at 325 degrees until golden brown. Take out the bunelos when they are done and place them on a paper towel to drain the excess oil.

On a plate spread 1 tablespoon of the white chocolate sauce and berry sauce place the fried bunuelo right on top.

White chocolate sauce

1 bar white chocolate

1 can condensed milk

½ can evaporated milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan, at mid-low heat,

until everything is melted and

combined. Keep warm until ready to use.

Berry compote

1 pint strawberries

1 pint blueberries

1 pint raspberries

1 lemon, juiced

3 tablespoons honey

Combine all ingredients in a blow and let sit for 20 minutes. Blend and refrigerate.

 

HOPPIN’ JOSÉ RICE

Yield: Serves 4

Source: Chef Lorena Garcia

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ cup bacon, diced

¾ cup lima beans, thawed

¾ cup Black Eyed Peas Guiso (see recipe below)

2 cups cooked Thai Jasmine rice

¾ cup lima beans, thawed

Olive oil, to drizzle

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped

  1. In a large, deep skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Add bacon and cook for 3 minutes to render fat.

  2. Add lima beans and Black Eyed Peas Guiso. Cook for 2 minutes, then add cooked rice. Let rice and beans cook on medium heat to toast rice about 10 minutes.

  3. Remove pan from heat and spoon Hoppin’ José onto a serving plate.

Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with cilantro.

BLACK-EYED PEAS GUISO

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients:

½ cup vegetable oil

2 cups dry cured meat (carne seca), diced and soaked overnight

1 cup white onion, diced small

½ cup carrots, diced small

½ cup celery, diced small

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

1 tablespoon red jalapeño, diced small

1 tablespoon cumin

½ tablespoon paprika

½ tablespoon dried oregano

½ tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 pound black-eyed peas, frozen

5 cups water

1 smoked ham hock

¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

  1. In a large, deep skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat.

  2. Add dried meat and cook for 1 minute. Stir in onions, carrots, celery, garlic and red jalapeño. Cook for 2 minutes.

  3. Add cumin, paprika, dried oregano, ground ginger, and rosemary, and continue to cook for an additional 2 minutes.

  4. Add the black-eyed peas, water, and ham hock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

  5. Remove ham hock from pan, then remove pan from heat. Garnish black-eyed peas with cilantro.

 

MAC CON QUESO

Yield: Serves 4

Source: Chef Lorena Garcia

Ingredients:

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

¼ cup panko crumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup shallots, minced

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

4 cups Peruvian corn

1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup white wine

½ cup mascarpone cheese

½ cup heavy cream

1 cup (packed) fresh spinach, chopped

1 teaspoon white pepper

1 lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 cup hearts of palm, cut into ½-inch rounds

  1. In a small bowl, toss together the Parmigiano Reggiano and panko crumbs, and set aside.

  2. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. In an oven-safe skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic to hot oil and sauté for 1 minute

  3. Add Peruvian corn and salt. Cook for 4 minutes then add white wine.
  4. Reduce heat to low and add mascarpone cheese and heavy cream. Toss in the spinach, white pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice and hearts of palm. Stir together and simmer for 2 minutes.
  5. Remove pan from heat and sprinkle with cheese-panko mixture. Place skillet in oven and bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is golden brown.

 

Latin American Post | Laura Rocha Rueda

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