Chef Anthony Lamas – Seviche, A Latin Restaurant, Louisville, KY and Roasted Poblano and Manchego Weisenberger Grits
“Give it a little love before you cook it.” – Chef Anthony Lamas
Whether it is his love, passion for cooking, Latin heritage or infectious personality, Chef Anthony Lamas seems to have found the right combination of ingredients for success for his Seviche, A Latin Restaurant, in Louisville, Kentucky. His talent and this restaurant have steadily been rising in the spotlight of the national culinary scene since opening in 2005.
A three-time James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist in the Southeast and winner of Food Network’s Extreme Chef in August 2011, Lamas has become one of the most recognized chefs in the country. USA Today has named Seviche as one of “10 great places for Latino flavor and flair” in the the U.S., rivaling cities likes New York , Miami and Los Angeles. John Mariani of Esquire stated “Seviche has emerged as one of America’s best and most innovative Nuevo Latino restaurants with plenty of the chef’s personality in every dish…If you have time for one meal in Louisville, make it Seviche”.
One reason for this success is Lamas’ ability to create an environment at Seviche where you feel his passion and love for the food. As is the case with every great chef we have worked with or interviewed, Lamas is very demanding and expects everyone to adhere to his high standards. Lamas says “I care about everything from the moment you walk through the front door to the food. We just try to do our very best and stay true to good, fresh ingredients.”
Lamas grew up on the West Coast and worked in his family’s Spanish restaurant from the time he was a young boy. His modern interpretation of classic Latin dishes are inspired by his Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. Growing up in California, he learned to combine traditional Pacific Rim and West Coast flavors in his dishes. Many Latin American countries, like Peru, have Asian influences. “I mix it all up. There is a lot of inspiration since each country is very different.”
How do these big flavors translate in the South where fried chicken and collard greens are the staple? How about local Kentucky Weisenberger Grits with chorizo or Serrano ham mingled with roasted poplano peppers, Manchego cheese and sweet corn fresh off the cob? Or his take on Fried Green Tomatoes made with blue corn meal and a Spicy Green Chili Buttermilk Dressing.
Better yet, Lamas will break down a local pig and and serve various cuts of the pork with a sauce infused with bourbon, orange zest, tomato, onion, garlic and chipotle chili. You cannot forget the collard greens in the South and his rendition where potlikker is translated into Demi-glace and the meat from the ham hocks becomes filling for Collard Greens and Pork Trotter Empanadas. Your taste buds go in to overdrive when listening to Lamas describe his food.
Lamas loves that all eyes are on the South right now. “It has exploded over the last three to five years. We are bringing back all the comfort foods and this is perfect to apply to my cuisine. The farmers are the stars here and we just take the great products and work with them.”
While Lamas works with many local farmers and purveyors and showcases those foods, he believes that “Farm to Table” is trendy. Growing up on a farm in Central California, this has always been his style of cooking. “It’s just what we do. We cook in the season with local and sustainable products.”
One of the ways that Chef Lamas is working with local farmers is to choose seeds and grow products together, like Heirloom peppers. He also has a farmer that grows Kohlrabi for him which he combines with thinly sliced green apple and then dresses it with ginger, sesame, soy and red chili for a Latin-inspired twist on slaw.
Always in search of the finest products to use at Seviche, Lamas will also source some of his ingredients that might not be available locally, such as wild mushrooms or sustainable fish from the coast of California. With the UPS hub located in Louisville, he says that many foods will reach him before they get to cities like New York.
Wanting to know what Chef Lamas is currently focused on, he had two immediate responses. “Breaking down the whole animal. We take a whole hog and make pâté, sausage, chops, and smoked hams. The young kids in the kitchen really enjoy it. There are so many applications and we can get creative.”
“Canning. I am obsessed with canning. It’s my new labor of love. This winter we preserved and pickled beets and turnips. We made jams from winter fruits. I am going back to what mom did. It looks pretty in the restaurant and we use it.” His plan is to to eventually have no other canned products at Seviche than those he makes in-house. “This summer I want to put up about 200 pounds of tomatoes for roasted tomato sauce and salsa. Take the beautiful summer tomatoes and preserve them. They will taste so much better than anything I could buy.”
When asked what type of chef he hires for his kitchen at Seviche, Lamas says many times he looks for a similar background to his own. “I like taking younger guys that have worked in several kitchens. I had an apprenticeship at a resort where a chef took me under his wing. I was trained to work every meal, from breakfast to dinner. I like to have my chefs work all the stations in the kitchen. That is the best training. This is the way I learned.”
“I think that some of these kids are being misled by culinary schools and television. They have never stepped into a kitchen before. They think they are going to go to school and then end up being a TV star, like Bobby Flay. Many kids cannot afford to go to school, but they can afford to work in a kitchen. I will have guys come in and work for me for three or four hours to see how busy it really is and see if they can handle it. We put out 250 covers a day and the food has to be consistent every day, whether I am there or not.”
Lamas is exceedingly passionate about what he does. Having met him personally several times and worked with him on our culinary tour in Louisville last year, I know how creative he is and how tirelessly he works to put out innovative dishes with surprising flavors. “It’s a labor of love. It has to be in you. You need to have your heart in it. At Seviche, it is not just about me. It’s a team effort and the team has to be inspired together. When we do it right we are all happy.”
Thank you so much to Chef Lamas for all of the time he has spent working with us. He played a huge role in the success of our On The Road culinary adventure to Louisville and it is a true pleasure to call him our friend. In this case, a friend with some amazing food benefits.
Lamas has shared a recipe for his take on a Southern favorite, Roasted Poblano and Manchego Weisenberger Grits. “This recipe for grits takes them to an elevated level and are a perfect immersion of fresh and local flavors with a Latin flair.”
I prepared the recipe with Logan Turnpike Mill stone-ground grits and served them with grilled local pork chops and they were outstanding. The subtle bit of heat from the freshly roasted poblano peppers added a surprising kick. I did combine them with lightly sauteed fresh Florida corn shaved from the cob and the bit of crunch was texturally pleasing and added another layer of flavor. Be sure to add the corn right before you serve the grits to keep it crisp.
The grits were even better the next day after the flavors had time to marry. I recommend that you make these grits a day ahead before serving. Certain not to waste one bite of the leftover grits, I heated the oven to 300 degrees and melted a small amount of butter in 2 individual cast iron skillets. When the pans were warm, I removed them from the oven and using the melted butter, I evenly coated the pans and poured in the grits that had been reheated. The grits were topped with pieces of crisp, organic applewood smoked bacon and a sunny side up organic egg. Phenomenal. The runny yolk combined with the spicy, cheesy grits and smoky bacon was a delight for the palate. This dish is not to be missed.
You can read more about Chef Anthony Lamas on the Seviche website. This page includes his biography, accolades, awards and press.
* These photographs are the courtesy of Jesse-Inman Hendrix of Estes PR in Louisville, Kentucky and include the photograph at the top of the post.
Roasted Poblano and Manchego Weisenberger Grits
Yield: 4-6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Chef Lamas recommends adding country ham for depth of flavor. You could also use chorizo or Serrano ham for a Latin twist, as he suggests. These grits were even better reheated the next day. I served them with applewood smoked bacon and a sunny side up egg. You will not want to waste one spoonful of these luscious grits!
1 cup grated Manchego cheese
3 roasted Poblano peppers, peeled and roughly pureed in food processor (can substitute 8 ounce can of green chiles)
2/3 cup (180g) white corn grits (I used Logan Turnpike Mill stone-ground grits)
2 cups water
2 ounces heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1. Boil 2 cups water with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Slowly stir in the dry grits, pouring them in a thin stream and stirring constantly so they won't form lumps. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until they start to thicken a little. Then reduce heat to medium low and cook uncovered, stirring now and then to ensure that they don't stick. After about 25 minutes, reduce heat to very low, cover the pan, and continue cooking until the grits are done. (I needed to add a little bit of water to keep mine from scorching.)
2. Stir the heavy cream, butter, roasted poblanos and manchego cheese into the hot grits, seasoning to taste with freshly ground black pepper.
3. You can also add fresh corn off the cob for texture, or country ham for depth of flavor.