As you are probably aware, Cuenca has been blessed with a large number of immigrants from Venezuela, many of them young, well-educated professionals. Jackie and I have made friends with a group of 20-something Venezuelans who are loosely related. All of them are fully employed. One 26-year old man is a licensed medical doctor in two countries, including Ecuador. One young lady was an administrator of a medical clinic.
But this review concerns a trained chef, 23-year old Edeer Jhoan Parada Guzman.
Last week, the group of about 10 wanted to celebrate the birth of a daughter born to one of the group. Jackie and I agreed to supply the venue for the party. Jhoan agreed to cook for the occasion: three different tapas plus a main dish, and they were extraordinary! A delightful surprise.
Jhoan received his 2½ years culinary training at HTEI (High Training Educational Institute) in Venezuela and has lived in Cuenca for seven months. With the enlisted assistance of a former Venezuelan engineer and a former Venezuelan policeman, Jhoan slaved in an ill-equipped expat kitchen and served up an extraordinary bounty of food.
We contacted Jhoan two days in advance to figure out a quick outline of the menu. We just told him to put together three different kinds of tapas and a main dish. The only restrictions were that they must be his favorites. He came to our home the morning of the party, we gave him cash, then he came back in time with the ingredients and began cooking.
The first tapa was toasted baguette brushed with olive oil and garlic, topped with Ecuadorian bacon and mystery herbs. The second was the same baguette recipe with a more familiar topping with tomato, avocado, cheese and more mystery herbs. The third tapa was new. It was a sort of a pate made with sardines, olive oil, and mystery seasonings. It was a new, intensely flavorful concoction. Absolutely delicious!
I must tell you about the crowning dish, a lasagna made with plantains instead of pasta. How many of you out there enjoy plantains? Jackie is hooked on the charcoal grilled things out on the streets, stuffed with crumbly cheese. We love the sweet/tart flavor of those fruits and were just blown away with Jhoan’s invention. The plantains were first boiled then mashed like mashed potatoes. Then the filling was cooked dry to offset the moist plantains. It comprised mainly ground beef, with more mystery seasonings, loaded with lovely flecks of red and green, incredibly savory. The two were layered into a lasagna dish and covered with shredded cheese as a top layer. Each serving was tasty and colorful, delightful to the eye.
This is the first time Jackie and I had a Rent-A-Chef come to our home and we are going to do it again. We’ve had food deliveries before but this service is a whole different animal. It was so nice to just have somebody else take over while we enjoyed our company. Even though Jhoan is a classically trained chef, the obviously South American flavors in this evening’s delicacies were well appreciated by both expats and Venezuelans here that evening.
After the meal, we rounded off the evening with a conglomeration of beverages, ranging from Pilsners to Coca-Cola to Screw Drivers to shots of cheap whiskey. The expats moved to one end of the dining table, intense faces buried into their Scrabble tiles, while the Venezuelan contingent were raucous on the other end, hooting and hollering over their dominos game.
We were of two very different cultures and age groups coming together one evening over food, drink, and laughter. How lucky are we to have experienced this? And was how lucky are we to be able to continue experiencing this? And, how lucky are we to be in a position where we can support these refugees in this way?
Anybody else interested in getting Jhoan into your kitchen?
Rent-A-Chef, Jhoan Parada Guzman; Hours: Flexible; Credit Cards: Cash only; Price: Negotiable but above minimum wage; Phone: 098-392-3648; Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org