I met José Salazar two years ago, when we both worked on the CAC’s Cuisine Art Cocktails book (you can read more about that project here). Both his Cincinnati restaurants are favorites, but I’m an especially big fan of Mita's, a Spanish/Latin American restaurant, with its fusion of so many different cuisines. When I eat there, I’m taken back to my days in Venezuela and it is a true feast for my Mediterranean taste buds!
José and I share a philosophy of food as an act of love, as he, too, had a grandmother who incessantly cooked and inspired him to love good food. That is why I wanted to tell his story on our blog and share a peak into his creative mind. I’m also very happy to share a recipe that he created especially for Zēlos, combining an iconic Latin American dish, ceviche, with our all-Greek sea fennel. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Maria: Zēlos was inspired by “food as an act of love” - did you ever experience food like that?
José: I always think of food as love and/or as being sexy. I think food draws emotion in the same way that music or art does.
M: You were one of the chefs featured in the CAC’s book, “Cuisine Art Cocktails”, where food met art - what was that experience of combining food and art like for you?
J: I was thrilled to be a part of the cookbook. I loved the idea of making a dish that resembled the aesthetics of the paintings. It was a lot of fun!
M: Cincinnati isn’t one of the first places that comes to mind when thinking of creative cuisine but it has attracted a large number of chefs in the past few years. What brought you here to the River City?
J: I agree that Cincinnati has an amazing number of talented chefs. I came here from New York to have a better family and personal life. It has turned out to be a great place to build the restaurants and to be a part of a community.
M: You incorporate a lot of unusual ingredients in your recipes. Tell us about your creative process, how do you choose ingredients and build a recipe around them?
J: I am typically influenced by nature and the seasons. I also make it a point to try not to follow trends and to seek ingredients that perhaps are a bit different or unique.
M: You combined a very iconic Latin American dish with a very Greek ingredient. How did you come up with your recipe for the Sea Fennel Ceviche?
J: I think the sea fennel actually paired perfectly. The briny, salty ocean flavor complimented the fish in the way citrus and salt does in most ceviche recipes.
M: What’s the future of food and creativity in our rapidly evolving and increasingly digital global world?
J: I do fear that the rapid pace of digital media has made us less appreciative of the beauty and deliciousness that we have.
yields 6-8 appetizer portions
One pound fish, the freshest available from your fishmonger, diced in medium pieces. Some that I recommend are; red snapper, grouper and hamachi (yellowtail tuna).
The juice from about 6 limes, depending on their size
The juice from 2 oranges
2 cups diced pineapple
2 small or 1 large jalapeño pepper, to taste, diced in small pieces
1 medium red onion, diced in small pieces.
1 jar Tragano Greek Organics sea fennel, plus a little extra for garnish
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped, plus a little extra for garnish.
Salt to taste
A drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil to finish.
Gently mix all the ingredients, minus the sea fennel and cilantro, and allow to sit covered in a bowl over ice for 15 minutes.
Add the cilantro and sea fennel and adjust the seasoning with salt. You can also adjust the lime and orange juice to make the ceviche as tart or as sweet as you like.
Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil and garnish with cilantro leaves and sea fennel.
Serve with tortilla or plantain chips.
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