The progressions from growing up working on a farm to becoming a chef wasn’t traditional for Anthony Lamas, but a love of food and a few of his mother’s recipes took him from his humble Central Valley beginnings to owning an award-winning and successful Louisville restaurant, multiple television appearances and a seat on Macy’s Culinary Council.
Promoting his cookbook “Southern Heat: New Southern Cooking Latin Style,” Lamas, the owner of Seviche restaurant, visited Macy’s Valley Fair on Nov. 10 to perform a cooking demonstration, share three mouth-watering recipes and sign copies of his book. Bobby Flay called Southern Heat “an American treasure with a Latin beat.”
Having lived in Kentucky for the past 20 years, Lamas has put the South on the map when it comes to Nuevo Latino cuisine by taking a traditionally Southern dish like a Kentucky Hot Brown and spicing it up with a Manchego-jalapeno Morany sauce or a sweet treat like Georgia pecan brittle and turning up the heat with the additional of smoked Serrano powder.
“My book is a little bit of Southern ingredients with Latin flavor, or vice versa — Latin dishes using Southern ingredients,” Lamas said. “It was just kind of a natural marriage for me. What was really fascinating to me was that we share a lot of the same ingredients.”
One of the main things Lamas stressed throughout the two-hour demonstration pertained to the importance of layering flavors in cooking, starting with a chef’s stock and building from there before adding a touch of acid and a hint of heat to everything from traditional chicken noodle soup to his pumpkin bisque with fresh goat cheese.
“I love citrus in my cooking,” he said. “I use it a lot. I think you can take chicken noodle soup, throw a little slice of jalapeno and a little squeeze of lemon and take it to a whole new level. Adding that acid just kind of gives it a little punch. I love adding citrus to soups. You can have broccoli cheddar and try a little squeeze of lemon in there, maybe a couple shakes of hot sauce and you just took it to a whole new level.”
Although Lamas promotes the use of citrus, he is quick to caution blossoming chefs on using citrus seeds or dropping entire lemons in dishes, as the seeds and rind have the ability to turn an entire dish bitter. Instead, Lamas encouraged home cooks to squeeze in lemon juice or utilize a microplane and adding the zest to provide the tang that takes dishes up a notch.
Other tips Lamas provided were for chefs to make their roux in larger batches and freeze it in single serving bags to save time when cooking, and to experiment with both dried and fresh chilies as they each provide separate, distinct flavors to finished dishes.
“Dishes are about being balanced and adding fat, citrus and crunch,” he said. “Sometimes you get something that’s really good but makes you feel kind of tired so it’s really about balancing [ingredients].”
And, when it came to being adventurous in the kitchen, Lamas emboldened the audience to take a chance and try new techniques and recipes at home.
“That’s what’s fun about cooking,” he said. “You can be creative and everybody can kind of do their own spin on things. Never be afraid of failure because you can always make it over and try again. What you want to do is when you’re cooking with chicken or you’re cooking with seafood be afraid of overcooking, don’t be afraid of undercooking … Once you’ve overcooked it, it’s ruined. Take it out a little earlier to check your chicken. Plus, when you let it rest it’s going to cook through.
“Under season, don’t over season because you can always go back in,” Lamas continued. “That’s what we do with layers. It’s something good to remember, but don’t be afraid. I love that Americans are cooking more at home — more than ever. People are building these amazing kitchens. We have farmer’s markets in all these small cities. You can go out and get these great American ingredients. People are always say that chefs are the new rock stars. I disagree. It’s the artesian and the farmers. They’re the rock stars because they’re creating these beautiful ingredients and these beautiful animals for us to eat and put on our dinner table.”
Lamas will appear on an episode of FYI’s Scraps, a culinary series that shows how chefs can create incredible feats in unexpected places using food waste and scraps, in early December.