Austin Chefs Return to El Paso to Support Migrant Families
Locals head back to their hometown for Annunciation House benefit
By Emily Beyda,
1:16PM, Mon. Sep. 23, 2019
On Tuesday, October 10, eight chefs from across the country will be returning to their hometown of El Paso for a once-in-a-lifetime meal benefitting Annunciation House, a charitable organization which works to provide food, shelter, and comfort to migrant families.
“El Paso has always been a hotbed of talent,” explains Rico Torres of Mixtli, who organized the seven-course event. “Talent that usually left home to succeed elsewhere. I was lucky enough to meet several El Paso chefs interested in putting together a dinner where we'd get to cook over open fires under the desert stars of our hometown, and use that dinner to give back to that community.”
The partnership with Annunciation House was the next step. “Annunciation House, based solely on donations, is providing an extremely important service,” says Torres. “These families are people escaping violence and extreme poverty, and oftentimes have lost everything they own.”
For Torres, the chance to work with Annunciation House to benefit such an important cause provided the best possible reason for a collaborative dinner. “The need to help our fellow human beings, especially in times of extreme hardship, is everyone's duty,” Torres says. “We are fortunate to have the opportunity to use our craft and clout to support this noble challenge.”
The family meal concept around which the dinner is organized came from a desire to help guests experience the way food can bring people from different communities together. “Growing up it felt like there were always like 30 of us eating at my grandmother’s home,” shares André Natera, of Fairmont Austin. “Cousins, aunts, uncles, and the random friends that came over too. So to me family meal is about good times with those that you care about having great conversations, laughing and enjoying.”
And as those of us who have worked in the restaurant industry know, family meal is also a cherished time for restaurant staff to come together and connect as a community, claiming a moment of peace in the madness of a dinner rush. “Family meal in the professional kitchen is an important part of the web of camaraderie, challenges, and successes shared in this industry,” says Torres. “Family Meal will focus that spirit to our extended border families. Both for the guests that will dine that night, and the families that will benefit from it, Family Meal will reinforce that sense of community that we grew up loving about El Paso.”
To share that sense of community, each chef is preparing their personal take on dishes enjoyed by their own families through the years, many inspired by the culinary traditions of Mexico. “I will be cooking a huaxmole with grass-fed short ribs,” shares Torres. “Huaxmole is made from guaje seeds that are garlicky and grassy. They were a staple in my grandmother’s recipes from her home in Zacatecas. My family's story of migration rings as true today as it did 50 years ago. My dish is my own quiet way of honoring that memory.”
Fermín Núñez of Suerte will be making a childhood staple. “Refried beans was a staple in my home almost all the time,” he says. “Being able to do my version of this, but with lentils, is something that I am proud to be able to serve in a different but familiar way.”
Gabe Erales of Comedor is also sharing a dish from his own family tradition. “My course is inspired by the Yucatán region from which my family comes from before moving to El Paso,” he says. “In this region many ‘recados’ are made for different applications, but the most interesting and technical one is ‘recado negro’ that is made with ashes of burnt chile’s and spices. This will be paired with quail, native to Texas Hill Country.”
Erales’ co-chef from Comedor, Alan Delgado, is also preparing native Texan meat in a manner inspired by the dishes of his childhood. “I will be cooking conejo en chile Colorado,” he says. “Chile Colorado is a dish I grew up eating on the border and I wanted to make my version of it.” A merging of native and emigree culinary traditions which exemplifies the values of Annunciation House.
For desert, André Natera is creating a play on a traditional tres leches cake topped with a baked meringue, and paired with fermented banana ice cream. “As a kid I loved this cake,” he says. “And I currently have this dessert on our menu at Fairmont Austin. I wanted to showcase something that I am doing now with my team that was inspired by my childhood in El Paso. Hopefully I can do the original justice.”
The chefs hope that sharing these dishes with their El Paso community of origin will help guests connect to the plight of the migrants Annunciation House supports. “The vast majority of the food being prepared by the chefs is influenced by Mexican cuisine,” shares Erales. “My hope is that each of the guests is awakened by new flavors, techniques, and representations of Mexican food that they have never before been exposed to even though El Paso is so heavily represented by Mexican culture.”
As Natera emphasizes, the American migrant community is in an especially precarious moment. “I think there is no greater time than now to show our support and showcase our talent for what is happening at our borders,” he says. “It is national news and right in our backyard. We need to show that there are good people out here doing great things for people that are in tough situations. Is there anything more important than helping those in need?” And, as Torres says, there’s no place like home for showing you care.
“El Paso is a paragon of the power of kindness and compassion that can uplift lives and communities,” he says. As it has been for generations, family meal is a small way to share in that kindness.
The dinner is Thursday October 10 at Ardovino's Desert Crossing. Doors open at 4:30pm for a meet and greet with chefs; cocktail reception at 6pm. Ticket includes dinner with wine pairings and after-dinner musical performance. For tickets and more information visit www.restaurantmixtli.com.