With dancers moving to salsa music on a colorful set reminiscent of Old San Juan, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company showcased the island's many tourist attractions at the recent New York Times Travel Show at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.
But they were also there to market Puerto Rico's traditional, diverse and exciting cooking scene, which they say is the best and most important culinary destination in the Caribbean. Gearing up for its fifth anniversary, they told attendees about Saborea Puerto Rico, a festival that will feature new and exciting activities highlighting Puerto Rico's culinary scene. The 2012 edition of this annual event, organized by the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (PRHTA), will be April 21st and 22nd at Escambrón Beach in San Juan, PR.
Chef Giovanna Huyke, who is known for her educational cooking TV shows on the island and is now the executive chef at Mio Restaurant in Washington, D.C., was at the travel show talking and demonstrating Puerto Rican cuisine to people from many different parts of the world. A goal, she said, is to elevate the perception of Puerto Rican foods in the culinary landscape, and Saborea Puerto Rico is helping to do that by highlighting chefs from Puerto Rico to a local and international audience.
Puerto Rican food, Huyke said, is also worth sharing with a worldwide audience because it is delicious with a lot of flavor, and it is not spicy. It can be healthy too, depending on how you cook and serve it, she said. "Not everything needs to be fried," she said, adding that many people have the misconception that Puerto Rican food is not healthy. Many Puerto Rican meals are based on vegetables.
In addition, she said, Puerto Rican food is very much influenced by the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Puerto Rican people. Fusion has always and continues to very much be a part of Puerto Rican cuisine.
"Puerto Rican food is evolving, and we are working to making Puerto Rican cuisine go to the next step," she said. "There's more openness, and there is a movement to raise awareness."
While chefs "are going beyond the traditional," Huyke said sofrito continues to be used as the base in many Puerto Rican dishes whether they are traditional or have a new twist.
Chefs always play a pivotal role in Saborea, and this year will be no different. Students from local culinary schools and universities will have the opportunity to show off their skills, styles and creativity at The Next Culinary Wave. There’s also the always-popular Tasting Pavilion, where Puerto Rico’s best restaurants offer some of their finest creations to the public. And through the demo kitchens, top local and international culinary personalities will reveal their secrets and interact with fans. The 2012 chef’s roster already reads like a “who’s who” of dream gastronomic experts from the U.S., the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.
After-hours events will also play a big part of this year’s gastronomic fest. On Friday, April 20th, the opening reception, A Privileged Taste of Saborea, will feature 19 renowned chefs hosting individual 12-14 person tables and preparing unforgettable dinners expertly paired with wine. And on April 21st, the “Sabor Puertorriqueño” sunset beach party will bring together local flavors, live music and varied entertainment with tapas-style fare in a casual ambiance.
This year's Saborea Puerto Rico also brings a wealth of new, flavorful events such as the Libations Station, which will offer tastings of local and international beers and spirits. Guest vintners from Napa Valley will regale visitors with tastings of that region’s best and favorite harvests, while local treats and homegrown coffees will be the main event at Sweets & Brews. There will also be an area dubbed “Mercado Boricua” for local vendors to present both agricultural and artisanal products.
“These additions have been designed to enhance Saborea’s local and international flavors while providing visitors with even more variety,” said PRHTA President & CEO Clarisa Jiménez. “Like the world of flavors it explores each year, Saborea Puerto Rico will continue to adapt to welcome new trends and ideas in the culinary landscape.”
Despite trends and new ideas, one of the most popular dishes among the tourists is mofongo even though chefs are making it in different ways, she said with a smile.
"We really want to put an emphasis on the food," Jimenez said. "We really want to showcase Puerto Rico's cuisine and our competitive advantages.
"We want people to come and see the warmth of the people of Puerto Rico, the wonderful places to visit on the island and enjoy our wonderful food," she said. "They will have an unforgettable experience. Saborea Puerto Rico is a way to help people finally understand the richness of Puerto Rican cuisine."
For more information, visit www.saboreapuertorico.com.