She promised us she doesn’t normally cook this way, but believe me, a tall, attractive woman in a tight black dress, stiletto heels and a chef’s jacket is quite a turn on, even if you’re heterosexual. This is how the culinary goddess Daisy Martinez, from The Food Network’s Daisy Cooks! arrived to cook on stage last Friday night at Miami’s Adrienne Arscht Center. She was joined by the well-loved and charismatic local Miami celebrity Food Network star of Simply Delicioso, Ingrid Hoffman (whose warmth and approachable nature reminded me of a Latin Rachael Ray) Together they kicked off the center’s Celebrity Chef Series (which includes other greats, Jacques Pepin, Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain) beginning with a spice of Latin fun.
And what fun it was! Part interview, part storytelling, part cooking demo (with a house filled with salivating audience members), Daisy and Ingrid (because after hearing about Ingrid’s struggles with Lupus and Daisy’s affection for martinis we fast forwarded to a first-name basis) talked about their own multi-cultural families and journeys from humble Latin roots to successful Food Network mega stars. There was much reminiscing about abuelitas (grandmothers) and the influential role they had on each one of these women. This was something I could relate to because even though I didn’t have an abuelita, I had my Colombian nanny, Yolanda, whose jokes, wise cracks, and culinary secrets (such as the tastiest cabbage salad from Tia Beatriz) shaped me as much as their abuelas had shaped them.
The atmosphere at the Arscht Center was so casual, Daisy nearly stepped off the stage to reprimand those who admitted not knowing what annatto oil was. Silent gasps amongst Latin peers were heard as she took pause and carefully explained this secret of Latin cooking: annatto seeds are seeped in oil and used as a coloring and flavoring technique for many Latin dishes, such as the shrimp she was preparing that night.
Ingrid cooked for us first, embracing her mantra of healthy, wholesome eating, using a stalk of cilantro (a favorite ingredient of hers) as her floral arrangement and showing her fast and simple style with the preparation of shrimp in a poblano chile and tomatillo salsa, coconut rice, and a heart of palm salad. Reflecting the same multi-cultural pride that compromises Miami, she explained this to be a diversely Latin dish drawing ingredients from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. She finished dazzling the audience with a mouthwatering guava martini made with jalapeño-infused vodka. Pardon the cliché but, caliente! And she did this all in ten minutes.
Daisy cooked shrimp as well but took a more traditional route with a classic sofrito rendition adding a surprise twist by serving this savory piquant dish on top of a Venezuelan sweet corn cachapa, or cornmeal pancake, traditionally eaten with fresh white cheese. As the cachapa sizzled Daisy promised us it would be crunchy on the outside but tender on the inside serving as the perfect companion to her shrimp. There’s something about Daisy that makes you just believe.
There were a couple of hiccups for her along the way: having to maneuver an electric stovetop (“I do gas, what can I say!” she confessed) and being given a spatula the size of a toddler’s cooking set instead of the real deal to flip her cachapas. But, these obstacles only served to enhance her funk and funny style as she brazenly plowed through them giving the audience plenty of laughs (her assistants became Cooking Ninja #1 and Cooking Ninja #2 and enjoyed basking in her fun limelight) along the way and equally important, producing a delicious smelling dish at the end. Again, as a mere audience member, I was not privy to tasting, but, being on row #7 smack in the middle, I sure as hell did get the aroma and it was intoxicatingly rich and sweet and spicy all at once.
Later on, during a Q&A session, two little girls donning chef hats and mucho moxie approached the microphone to admit they didn’t have a question but could they get a hug instead? Both Daisy and Ingrid gladly complied, leaving more than a few audience members jealous no doubt.
Lorena Garcia, a Venezuelan native chef and host of Univision’s Despierta America Cocinando Con Nestle, was the moderator of this jovial event and the only lucky soul able to sample the exquisite food prepared by these two talented ladies. Lorena would instinctively pop up on the stage as both Ingrid and Daisy were barely done stirring their final stir and eagerly give us all a hands-on preview of the food being prepared. Her enthusiasm wolfing down the food (piping hot and knifeless) served to attest what my sense of smell said: excelente!
This was not only an evening filled with good laughs, pleasurable conversation, and enticing aromas. It was what makes Miami my home and why: the conversion of cultures, languages and backgrounds that mold so easily that an entire audience is able to slip in and out of Spanish and English and not even notice they’ve done so. I suppose growing up the way I did, food obsessed and raised in Venezuela by an American mother and Israeli father, all the while meticulously nurtured by my Colombian nanny, gave me the flavors of many worlds. These are flavors that have formed me, nourished me, and propelled me through my life. Seeing these women sharing similar patchworks of tastes to a house filled with an eager and anticipating audience made me feel a part of a bigger and more flavorful culinary whole.