While at FCI, culinary students have to put together a menu project surrounding a theme of our choice. We work on these projects over the course of approximately a month and a half and turn them in during Level 5. It's kind of like a culinary mini thesis. My project was based around Venezuelan cuisine.
Venezuela holds a bittersweet place in my heart. It is the country my parents were born in and a place I love dearly, but over the last twelve years the political situation has gone downhill and poverty and crime have become rampant. By all accounts, it is not the place I remember. I have avoided going back for many years for fear of tarnishing the beautiful memories I have in my mind.
The place I knew had its problems, but it also had rainforests, majestic mountains, bustling cities, and some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen . . . and I’ve see some. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time there as a child. When I was I kid, we would spend the summers with my grandmother in Caracas. Later on, my dad got transferred to Valencia, Venezuela, and I had the chance to live there during my last two years of high school and it proved to be two of the best years of my life.
I really miss my second country, but one of the ways I hold on to the memories of the place I knew is through the food. I grew up eating Venezuelan dishes often, I helped my mom prepare them as a kid, and they are still the first foods I ask my mom to prepare whenever I visit my parents. Eventually, I learned to make them myself, and now my husband and I make them a lot at home, as he has grown to love them too.
Because these are some of the closest dishes to my heart, I knew almost immediately that I wanted to work with them for my menu project. The original versions are extremely rustic. This is hearty peasant food, but it is delicious and intensely flavorful. My goal for this menu was to keep all of those flavors and the spirit of the dishes, but refine them a bit.
Many of these dishes are also often enjoyed family-style or in groups. I’ve eaten them with family and friends all of my life, whether in groups around a table, or after a night of partying, during weekends at the beach, and on road-trips. In that spirit, I held dinner parties as I worked on and tested these recipes to continue to share the food with friends and create new memories.
These dinner parties were also helpful in choosing the wine pairings. What’s a dinner without some good wine?! Therefore, with each course we sampled two or three bottles to decide on the wine that worked best with the dish. The winning wines are listed throughout this menu with their corresponding course.
These dishes mean a lot to me and I was extremely excited to share them with friends, as I am now excited to share them here. I hope you enjoy!
Thank you to all the friends who came to my experimental dinners for contributing their palates, opinions, and for the good times. To my mom and grandma for their inspiration, for sharing their recipes, and for being the first to show me how to cook. And to my husband Greg, who was sous chef, consultant, and photographer throughout the process of creating these dishes.