The tantalizing scents of Chilean food with exotic names such as Ceviche de Camaron, Humitas, and Milcaos, were emanating from Café des Artistes on Friday evening, April 22. The event, dubbed “Taste of Chile,” was hosted by Friends of the Fallbrook Library, and initiated by Mary Jo Bacik, who sits on the organization’s board and also plans the programs.
It was an evening of wine and appetizer tasting, with Café des Artistes proprietor Michael Calvanese at the helm. Calvanese developed the innovative menu, through research, as well as by drawing from his cooking experiences while a resident of Mexico City. The cuisine of Chile resembles the Mexico City cuisine more closely than it does the spicier Baja cuisine. Calvanese said that stocking the kitchen for this event was a challenge because many of the food items used in Chilean food are not items that he is accustomed to buying for his restaurant.
Jenny Nova, who has worked for eleven years at Café des Artistes, and is originally from Acapulco, took the menu that Calvanese developed and created savory appetizers.
The Chilean theme was chosen to complement the book, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of the 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Héctor Tobar. The book is this year’s choice for the Fallbrook Community Read. It’s the true story of a Chilean copper mine collapse and the 33 men who were trapped 2,300 feet underground for 69 days.
This was my first taste of Chilean food and it reminded me of the tapas that I enjoyed in Madrid. Like that Madrid taste experience, this was also a taste surprise. I expected the food to be a bit spicier, like Mexican food, but instead it resembled the Spanish food I enjoyed – intense flavors without much spicy heat.
The chilled Ceviche de Camaron was brimming with tender shrimp, onions, diced cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapeños, and onion with cilantro as a garnish. For the liquid portion of the dish, Nova used “Clamato” juice, adding a few other items to lend a hint of spice.
Nova hand-shredded the potatoes and only added salt and pepper when she made the Milcaos (potato cakes). The cakes were crunchy and flavorful.
The Humitas (tamales) – both the beef and refried bean versions – were also house-made, and encased in Nova’s delicious hand-prepared masa. When I asked her how she made the masa, she explained that it started with, “the perfect chicken stock.” She then mixed it with masa harina.
For the Bean Humitas, Nova prepared the refried beans herself, and then rolled them in hand-prepared masa. Nova prepared the Beef Humitas filling by cooking the beef, then adding finely chopped carrots, tomatoes, onion and a bit of garlic and pepper. It was a provocative taste that reminded me of tapas in Madrid.
The Queso Fundido Con Chorizo was served with a pita-type flatbread and, by far, it was the most high-spirited item on the menu. The spicy chorizo was cooked with onions and mixed with cheese. It even left a memory of the spicy heat a few moments after I finished it.
The Fallbrook Community Read event is held once a year, but has various activities leading up to the final event, which is a luncheon and question and answer session where the author of the chosen book is able to share thoughts with readers. This year the final event will be held at the Pala Mesa Resort on Saturday, May 14 at 11 a.m., featuring Héctor Tobar, author of “Deep Down Dark.” Tickets to the luncheon are available at The Bottom Shelf (at the library) or on www.fallbrooklibraryfriends.org.