A first for the socially and taste conscious
By Darren Atkins

New York is no stranger to a festival. There is the German festival, the Italian festival, the Greek festival; even Gay and Earth Day festivals. However, the Gourmet Latino Festival (www.gourmetlatinofestival.com) at The Astor Center in New York City (www.astorcenternyc.com), June 4-12, is the first of its kind. Emphasizing the spirit of the Latin people and their zest for life, culture and history, the festival celebrates this spirit through an exploration of Latin gastronomy and a social awareness of Latino food production. Throughout the week innovative Latin chefs, mixologists and taste masters will showcase their talents through the flavors and culture of Latin America and delve into the flavors and passions that have helped shape a community.

Gourmet Latino festival director Karen Uribe says, “At this festival, there will be many different events from grand tastings, to seminars and talks, all of which are about celebrating Latin culture and really trying to get people to see the diversity and different nuances from countries including Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay.”

The cuisines of these countries will shared through the talents of many Latin culinary experts who are lead by Chef Aaron Sanchez Chef/Owner of Centrico and Paladar restaurants in New York, and Steve Olson, beverage expert, savant and principle in the firm aka Wine Geek. Sanchez, who grew up in the kitchen of his mother, Zarela Martinez, recognized as the foremost pioneer for introducing and promoting Mexican food to North Americans, couldn’t help but appreciate the need his fellow New Yorkers to have a clearer understanding of Latin food. He comments, “Finally the time has come, where I think enough chefs are creating distinctive styles of their food, for us to create an event that’s just not some homogenized regurgitation of food that’s been done and done before.”

Distinctive Latin spirits and beverages are also on the menu as featured mixologists Junior Merino, Giuseppe Gonzalez and Andrew Seymour will be showcasing spirits and wines that have been preserved in Latino tradition. Sanchez continues, “You can’t have food without a great spirit or wine, so we’re going to be bringing forth spirits like Aguardiente, Cachaça, Mezcals, and all the wonderful Latino rums that I think are really going to turn some eyes and heads, and to see how they can be intricately and cleverly paired with ingredients, which will be a huge component and success of the event.”

Aside from all the delicious fun the Gourmet Latino Festival is committed to improving the lives Latin farmers and food producers in the US and Latin America. Through a partnership with Greenmarket, a program of GrowNYC (formerly the Council on the Environment of NYC), the Rainforest Alliance and the Fair Trade Federation to raise awareness of sustainable living and fair trade practices, as well as the importance of local farmers.

A portion of the ticket sales will be donated to social change programs. One such program, The New Farmer Development Project, is run by Kate Granger from Greenmarket and it helps immigrants in New York City start their own farm businesses for their families. Kate says, “We’ve got Latino farmers growing vegetables, raising chickens for eggs, honey, flowers and a lot of guys who have brought in some really new and exciting products to the market; Papalo, Pipicha, Huiltlacoche and Huazontle, some very traditional Latino products that the community in New York City has been looking for.”

For those looking for an opportunity to explore Latin food at the dinner table the festival will also include a week-long restaurant promotion June 8-12, which will encapsulate Latino-inspired menus from participating restaurants including: Centrico www.myriadrestaurantgroup.com/centrico/index.html; Fonda www.fondarestaurant.com; Macondo www.macondonyc.com; Mercadito; Paladar www.paladarrestaurant.com; Palo Santo www.palosanto.us; Yerba Buena www.ybnyc.com.
For additional information and a specific calendar of events visit; www.gourmetlatinofestival.com.