Chef Tita looks to the past to create D.R. gastronomy of the future
Chef Tita wants to tell the world that Dominican cuisine is more than rice, beans and sancocho.
The woman known as Chef Tita, considered the ambassador of the new Dominican cuisine, believes her country's gastronomy has the potential "to be the top tourist attraction in the Caribbean," with much of its exquisite flavor and quality based on traditions of long ago.
In an interview with EFE, 38-year-old Ines Paez noted the international fame Dominican gastronomy will enjoy thanks to the US television program "MasterChef," which has chosen the Dominican Republic to become, in the coming months, the first Caribbean country to host that competition.
Chef Tita, who will be on the contest jury, said a change has occurred in recent years and now Dominican chefs have much more interest in working with local ingredients, as well as in "valuing our culture."
Paez has dedicated the past 12 years to investigating Dominican origins, history, influences, local ingredients and culinary customs, while working with historians, anthropologists and sculptors.
With her concept, which she calls the "new Dominican cuisine," she seeks to rescue her people's gastronomic heritage.
Chef Tita says the project was born because "we were going nowhere in the kitchen, serving up almost nothing more than rice, beans and sancocho (a stew of green and root vegetables and meat), despite the amount of high-quality ingredients we have."
Her restaurant called Travesias, which opened its doors five years ago, is where she creates her new Dominican cuisine, in which, among other dishes, diners can taste ancestral fare once enjoyed by the Taino Indians, delights that have almost disappeared.
Among these ancestral delicacies, she mentioned the guayiga, a Taino favorite for making bread and cookies; the mapuey and the leren, both root vegetable that are served at Christmas; the bijan, used by the Tainos as a repellent and also as a natural food coloring and flavoring; and the jobo, a fruit of the cedar tree.
Chef Tita works with local farmers who supply the raw materials for her restaurant, where she also uses food products her parents grow on their farm outside the Dominican capital.
Paez, whose passion for cuisine began as a child because her mother, besides being a psychologist was a pastry chef, began working in the gastronomic world some 20 years ago.
"It's been a long trip, and I've never stopped learning," she said.