Chef Eric Rivera's 20-Course Caribbean Menu Is Coming To addo in 2020
Just because something tastes good, doesn’t mean its culturally representative. Great flavors and accessibility alone doesn’t mean it represents the culture it was inspired by. For example, Paseo’s might make great Caribbean style sandwiches for Seattle, which is fine, but extending praise to the whole of authentic Caribbean cooking isn’t accurate. In fact, labeling anything as just Caribbean food sort of misses the point. “What the fuck does that mean?” Chef Eric Rivera asks rhetorically.
The Caribbean is a geographic entity home to over 7000 islands divided amongst 28 different nations. It’s impossible to generalize that much culture into a single category and that’s why Chef Eric is creating a new 20-course flagship menu to broaden diners’ horizons about what Caribbean food actually is. Along the lines of addo’s current Silva experience, Chef Eric will educate guests on the history, culture, and techniques through 20 different dishes to fill your brain with knowledge and your belly with food spanning numerous tropic island nations.
It’s possible that many people don’t understand the Caribbean because the Caribbean isn’t easy to understand. It’s a complex geographical area that spans from the Miami coast to the northern waters of South America. All of the different nations are grouped together in different classifications like the Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, and east, west, north and South Caribbean. Some of the groups overlap nations like Cuba is part of the Greater Antilles but are also in the Western Caribbean. Jamaica, Belize, Cozumel, and the Cayman Islands are also west. In the east, you’ll find places like Puerto Rico and Barbados and in the south are islands like Aruba. Not to mention Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the amount of cooking culture that comes from all of these places is daunting, to say the least. It’s kind of like labeling Indian food “Asian food” just because India is in the content of Asia.
Caribbean nations have a rich and sad history of colonization and slavery. However, European colonizers and their African slaves were far from the first inhabitants of the islands. The Arawak, Carib, and Taino natives were the first inhabitants and started used cooking techniques that became ubiquitous with Caribbean cooking. Taino Indians started cooking fish and other proteins in clay pots, Arawak used wooden barbacoa to enrich their meats with wooden flavors, and Caribs (the Caribbean Sea was named after them) introduced spices, citrus, and peppers to embolden their recipes.
Slave labor helped normalize crops like sugar, coffee, and cocoa. Fermented sugar was an incredibly popular alcoholic drink because of its sweet flavor high tolerance for sea travel. It didn’t lose flavor or potency on long sea voyages as wine did, so it became popular with seamen. It would eventually become known as rum and its numerous different varieties. The tropical environments are home to many kinds of ingredients you’ve possibly never seen on a menu. Cassava, ackee, callaloo, and pak choi are various vegetables and greens that are combined in wonderful ways. Of course, troves of mango, papaya, guava, pineapple, and passionfruit can also be found in the Caribbean tropics.
You’ve probably heard of several staple dishes that get lumped into the whole of Caribbean cooking like rice and peas (beans) and jerk chicken, but these hail from Jamaica specifically. Curried goat originated from mass Indian immigration in the 1800s. Mofongo is a plantain centered dish that was created in Puerto Rico and ropa vieja is an authentic Cuban shredded flank steak and vegetables which is typically served with rice or beans (or both).
Dive into the cerulean seas of Caribbean cuisine with Chef Eric starting January 2020. Tickets are on sale for addo’s 20-Course Caribbean menu right now! (click)
Written by Jonathan Olsen-Koziol