Puerto Rico: Grand Cuisine of the Caribbean
Authors: José L. Díaz de Villegas
Pub. Date: 2004
Pages: 292 pages
Don't let the price or size of this marvelous book dissuade you- this is Puerto Rican haute cuisine!
You may see a occasional glimmer of a traditional dish, but expect a surprise on every page. Through intimate profiles of nine master chefs , here are the secrets of their signature creations. And that isn't all! Gorgeous photography will encourage you to learn about the native foods of Puerto Rico and how to create dazzling presentations. This is truly a "Must have" book for all serious cooks and lovers of seriously good food!
Posted by JULIETTE ROSSANT on 16th Nov 2009
During a recent trip to San Juan, I received a copy of a new cookbook entitled Puerto Rico: Grand Cuisine of the Caribbean by Jose Luis Diaz de Villegas, with photography by Jochi Melero Munoz (University of Puerto Rico Press 2004).
When I picked up this hefty, handsome, over-sized volume, I thought I was holding another coffee table book. In one sense, it was: it is too beautiful to spoil in the kitchen dripping olive oil or fruit juice on the stunning photos while cooking a dish of Duck in Tamarind with Cassava and Mojo and Avocado (pp. 67-68).
In fact, this is an ambitious book, setting out to describe fine dining in Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican cuisine. The recipes are tempting, and many of them can be made with State-side ingredients -- after all, Puerto Rico has been part of the United States since 1898. Still, rarely can we find such quality in produce. As I turned the page to the photographs of breadfruit, chayote and okra, they splashed across the page like surrealist art. Stunning papaya lay cut open on its leaf like a Georgia O'Keefe. How I wish I could find such specimens in my local market!
Jose Luis Diaz de Villegas & Co.Jose writes about nine fine dining chefs that have made their mark on Puerto Rico, interspersing chapters on their careers and cuisine with interludes describing more casual, traditional fair on the Island. Some of Puerto Rico's best chefs are not natives like Mark French (p. 44) and Aaron Wratten (p. 264), and even some of the Puerto Ricans have studied at the CIA and worked in the best New York restaurants.
Among the chefs is Wilo Benet of Pikayo. Jose takes us through Wilo's story, his switch from photography to cuisine, the CIA, the apprenticeships under great chefs and the maturation of his cuisine in a series of incarnations of Pikaya. Here are recipes for fine cuisine, and yet there are real touches of local ingredients (croutons of fried plantain on the Caesar salad, for instance) that mark Wilo's brilliance. The photos show the kitchen, restaurant, technique and finished dished as well as a photo by Wilo himself of a tomato.
Interspersed in these chef's stories are marvelous peaks at more pedestrian food on the island. Jose even lists his favorite fondos and lechoneras (p. 74) and recommends spit roasted pig and cassava fritters. He has recipes for Vieques-Style Arepas (p. 77), the homey pancake made throughout Latin America and used as the Middle Easterners would use a pita bread or Mexicans a tortilla.
It's enough to make anyone want to visit San Juan -- again and again.