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Richard Kilgore

A Texas Chat with Chef Lanny Lancarte II

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We are pleased that Chef Lanny Lancarte will be our guest for the first Texas Forum Chat. Lanny is traveling in Mexico and will join in beginning Wednesday evening. Thanks to Scott -- DFW for preparing the following introduction to kick off this discusion.

Lanny Lancarte II is the great grandson of Joe T. Garcia, whose eponymous restaurant was designated an American Regional Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 1998. He grew up roaming the kitchen and grounds of the restaurant and learned the family business working any position that needed to be filled.

During a period when he lived in Mexico, however, he experienced first hand the smells, flavors, and intense labor required in the traditional Mexican kitchen. This revelation stirred his passion for Mexican cuisine. He has traveled throughout Mexico and extensively through Oaxaca, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and the bordering states in the Central Valley, growing in experience with authentic dishes, ingredients, and techniques. He first met renowned Mexican cookbook author Marilyn Tausend in 1998 during his travels and has been fortunate to study under Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless, and Patricia Quintana, among others.

Inspired by his discoveries in Mexico, Lanny enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. It was during his time at the CIA that Lanny expanded his knowledge while working at Rick Bayless's award winning Topolobampo and Frontera Grill.

After graduation, Lanny returned to Fort Worth where he now combines his formal culinary education with traditional Mexican ingredients in degustation menus at Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana, site of an upcoming event for eGullet members on Septemeber 18th. Lanny joins us in this chat after another trip to Mexico.

Welcome to the eGullet Texas Forum, Lanny, and thank you for taking the time to chat with us! I have a few questions to get the ball rolling....

First, what are the main influences in your cooking? Second, are particular regional cuisines more important to you or do you draw from all over Mexico? And third, how have the different chefs/authors you've studied with over the years shaped your style?

--- Scott -- DFW

Please post your comments and questions and Lanny will join in Wednesday evening and be with us through the weekend.

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I've eaten at several upscale Mexican restaurants, most recently Bahena's Chilpancingo and Ixcapuzalco in Chicago, but also Topolo and Frontera, Javier's, Ciudad, and a few others that you might be less familiar with.

One thing I've found, even in Mexico (eg, Giraflores), is what seems like a tendency to refine the soul out of dishes. They lose their depth and intensity it seems to me. It's not that they're bad. They just don't have the richness and hearty flavors that I expect.

Have you experienced this? Do you think that the refinement necessary to make something haute results in a loss of of the hearty, intense flavors and textures of Mexican cooking? Is it a result of trying for subtlety that either a) doesn't fit our expectations for Mexican, or b) is a problematic goal for chefs cooking Mexican?

Also, one annoyance I found at Bayless's restaurants was a consistent attempt to foofify dishes by adding tenderloin of this or breast of that, even on stewed dishes where it was seemingly inappropriate or a poor match. Is this a mistake on the chef's part to try to make dishes more than they are (or in thinking that they aren't enough as they traditionally are)? Or is it a problem with customers in that it's not enough to make an exceptional pozole, but it also has to have an expensive meat thrown in to make it seem haute?

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How much of your Texas heritage is allowed into your foods?

Do you work with local farmers and ranchers to provide you with product? If so, how extensively do you do this?

edit - I am looking forward to the dinner on the 18th.


Edited by joiei (log)

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I can't wait for this one to get off the ground. I grew up in Ft Worth, and in the 1960s Joe Ts was considered THE Tex-Mex place to eat by many of us. I still go back when I visit "home", but it is rather different now. It will be interesting to hear what Lanny has planned for Alta Cocina Mexicana.

THW

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From the point of view of pure taste, what is your favorite regional cuisine and why?

Thanks so much for this interesting discussion.

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Hello Chef, and greetings from the Washington DC area.

This menu item caught my eye like Ivan Rodriguez would catch a Kenny Rogers fastball:

Nopal Cactus Risotto

What is Nopal Cactus, which rice do you use (is it in an Italian style?), and what is it about the cactus that makes the dish? I have to say it sounds intriguing.

Thanks in advance for your reply, and thanks for being here.

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Thanks for talking with us Chef!

I'm aspiring to become a chef and I'm wondering if you have any advice for a young culinary student. Any information would be greatly appreciated :smile:


Edited by RonThePirate (log)

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Thanks Richard for inviting me on. Sorry for the delay I was in the kitchen as soon as I stepped off of the plane and finally go in front of the computer.

I will start by talking about my cuisine. I call it Nouvelle Mexican; it is not a direct interpretation of Authentic Regional Mexican Cuisine. I use mainly Mexican and Mediterranean ingredients (which have a very strong resemblance to each other) and intertwine them into one cuisine. I definitely owe alot to everyone I have studied under and have taken tips good or bad into my style of cooking. All though I can't say that I am a mirror of anyone of my predecessors. I would like to think that I am going in my own direction with Mexican cuisine, which is also why I have chosen not to do Authentic Mexican. I believe I could recreate age old recipes (which are fabulous) and have good response but I enjoy trying to create and add some other dishes that I enjoy eating, staying with a Mexican focus.

I have traveled extensively through Mexico, taking in different regions and to answer a few questions, I have to say that Oaxaca is the place where I often have to get back to, due to the intense flavors and smells of the Markets. I believe this will touch on the soul of Mexican food question as well. When ever you taste a mole prepared in Mexico it is definitely hard to recreate in a professional kitchen for a couple of reasons. First the ingredients used can be the same, but to use comparison in wine, a grand cru Bordeaux can not be created in the Napa Valley. The chilies that are used, the vessels that are used in the cooking process, the chocolate that is used in some moles can be hard to come by( I usually bring back 10-15 pounds of chocolate when I find what I like), and the preparation in some of the sauce work is quite time consuming. It is a rustic food that one might spend from childhood until death perfecting a good mole or recipe, which is why most of the great recipes in Mexico, unfortunately have been lost over time.

To the point on why I think most restaurants which are considered upscale, try to "foofify" their menus. The mass public wants to see tenderloin and nicer cuts of meat on the menu to feel that their money is well spent. I would assume not use them, it would be more cost effective, but you would be surprised. I taylor each one of my menus to that of what the diner has requested, and most times if they after they have seen some of the menus, most will go for the same things. However thankfully I have people like you all in this forum that live to eat and don't eat to live.

Local farmers, I would love to use more, but I have had a hard time seeking out some of the quality that I would like to see from local farmers. The only farm I drive out to regularly is one that I get unpasturized goat milk from to make my cajeta and goat queso fresco.

Nopal Cactus and Risotto. If you have had Nopal (probably in a breakfast dish with eggs) you will know that is has an acidic quality and I think that the acid in that cactus and the creaminess of the risotto (I use Arborio) work well together. And it has been a crowd favorite.

I hope I got all of the initial answers and look forward to more response. Thanks everyone. Lanny P. Lancarte II

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Aspiring chef, I would always reccomend cooking for a living if you have the passion and care for food. I would reccomend working in a kitchen for a while before you go. You can pick up some things that could give you an advantage over some of your class mates. Also you can see what a professional kitchen is like and see how deep your passion is for everything involved in the restaurant busineess. Good Luck.

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I wasn't surprised that your favorite region is Oaxaca. :biggrin: I like it too. But the "Gulf Region" is the cuisine that I could eat every day and not get tired of. Do you drift that way in your cooking to take advantage of our Gulf seafood? (I include Tampico, Veracruz, and Yucatan in "Gulf Region". Yes... I know Yucatan is partly Caribbean. :raz: )

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Lanny,

1) Assuming you make corn tortillas in your restaurant, do you use fresh masa (and, if so, do you make your own)? Commercially produced masa harina?

2) What Mexican ingredients would you most like to have, but have trouble getting here in Texas?

Thanks!

Scott

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I do enjoy classic veracruz and yucatecan dishes, and the spices and ingredients of the regions and they certainly appear on my menus.

As for tortillas, I do make my own but not with fresh masa. Sounds disappointing but I am not keen on the tortelleria in my area. I add certain ingredients to the masa to make it better quality that that of the tortellerias in my area. And people enjoy them. Mostly the masa I use is for tamales and sopes.

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I was looking through the sample menus. Sounds great. I very much hope the execution lives up to the descriptions. I wish I could be there for the big meal.

I noticed you have a lot of interesting ingredients. You said you only use one local farmer (for your goat milk -- fresh goat milk cajeta is probably worth the admission). So where do you get your ingredients? They're obviously not delivered by Sysco. Have you considered contracting with local farmers to grow some of the more difficult items?

When you go out for Mexican, where do you go? Do you go out for antojitos/taqueria food, and if so, where? What other types of food excite you and what are some of your favorite restaurants, especially any hidden gems?

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Thanks for taking the time to be with us Lanny. I was wondering if you could tell us a little about what you are cooking this time of year and what you are considering for the menu for the dinner next week.

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Hi Lanny, I wish I could be with the group on the 18th but here I am in Mexico. Well, can't complain. I'm fascinated by what you're doing. Could you comment on

(1) Where you see similarities between mediterranean and Mexican cooking (a topic that keenly interests me)

(2) How you see what you are in doing in comparison to what some of the chefs in Mexico are doing with nouvelle Mexican--I suppose I'd say Martha Chapa or Patricia Quintana or Monica Beteta rather than perhaps Ricardo Muñoz or Alicia Gironella who I suppose I'd put on the more "authentic" side though it's not a hard and fast line obviously?

Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule,

Rachel

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I have another question Lanny...

You seem to have built a solid foundation very quickly for a young chef, what do you want to do in the coming years to progress your style? What kind of goals have you set for yourself? Do you hope to win national recognition in the coming years?

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Yes I have thought about contracting farmers, and I have also tried to grow some things on my own for the first time this year. With some success I have grown some herbs(hoja santa, epazote, cilantro, thyme, etc.) I have also grown peppers tomatoes and some lettuces. But I only have thirty seats in my place, so I can't buy in big enough volume to entice many farmers. So I rely on Chefs Garden and Earthy Delights. I get specialty herbs and vegetables from them. As for places I eat, just about anywhere, I do eat at some local taqueria's and marisco joints. The places in Mexico I have enjoyed are Izote, Patricia Quintatna's place and Abagail Mendoza's Restaurant in Teotitlan del Valle. I am a fan of lots of other food, Italian and Japanese might be my two other favorite cuisines.

Right now we are working with of course lots of tomato and corn. Huitlacoche, Brussel Sprouts, Beets, and fresh beans. As for fish, we are using Sturgeon, Skate Wing, and Halibut. And we often use Quail, Duck, Lamb and any other meats that the diner would like.

I think the similarities in Mediterranean and Mexican start with the ingredients. Tomatoes, Olives, Nuts, and Seafood. The use of beans and rice in the two cuisines also could be looked on as similar. There are some dishes that have parallels like albondigas and meatballs, fideo and the use of pastas in soup, and frijoles charros and bean cassoulets. I have noticed similarities for a while and if you read a Mediterranean cookbook and then a Mexican cookbook you can pick up on some similarities.

I could never compare myself to any of these people that you speak of partly because I have taken classes from a few of them, but I do think that the direction that they are going with food, especially that of Izote in Mexico City is along the lines that I try to go.

I am still trying to build a foundation in cooking and will continue learning the rest of my life. My future goals are to continue staying with current food trends and of course I would love to gain national recognition, I think that would be the ultimate sign of success of would be to gain recognition from peers across the nation.

Thanks Again.

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Thanks Larry. It's impressive to hear how to try to find time both to grow your ingredients and to work out the foundations of what you are trying to do. I can't wait to try the results some day.

And I think you can compare yourself to the people I mentioned! You may have taken classes but you are an independent professional and one is is facing parallel challenges (running a restaurant to modern tastes) but in a different environment (Texas not Mexico). We're all rooting for youm

Rachel

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In follow-up to the Mediterranian-Mexican comparison, would it not follow since a large part of the European settlers were originally from countries that connected to the Med., Spain and the Catholic church most especailly.

Chef, thank you for taking the time to visit with us on the Texas boards. I am looking forward to the Egullet dinner on Saturday evening. :cool:

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First of all, let me, like others in this thread, tell you how much we appreciate your taking your time and sharing your knowledge with us.

My personal biggest problem with cooking Mexican food in the US is my inability to find good authentic cheeses. I do haul cheese back when I visit Mexico, but most of the time that's not possible. And since the shelf life of cheese is so limited, it's not like I can stock up for several month's worth. I am obviously aware that there are many "Mexican-style" cheeses for sale in US supermarkets, but they are a sad substitute.

So my questions are: what do you do about Mexican cheeses? Which of the commercially available US-made cheeses do you believe are best?

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I get my huitlacoche from Chef's Garden or Earthy Delights. The both are on the internet. It comes in frozen but is great quality.

On Mexican Cheeses, if I have the milk I will make my own Queso Fresco, or creamy goat cheese, if not I will use Mozzarella Cheese Co. out of Dallas or will go to the Mexican Super market. It is hard to find good quality cheese so you have to comprimise. I use Spanish cheeses as well.

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Thanks for the tip on the company in Dallas. Let me know if you have any other questions, I will check a few more times today. If not thanks for having me and feel free to contact me at any time. Lanny Lancarte

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Okay, a couple final questions:

1) In what way do you think about Tex-Mex: a) a regional Mexican cuisine as legitimately Mexican as the food of Veracruz, Michoacan, etc; b) an American bastardization of a cuisine, enjoyable in its own way, like Italian-American food, but truly a dumbed-down version; c) a regional American cuisine, Mexican in the same way that Creole is French, ie, truly its own thing; d) a description of your own choosing?

2) Where in the US do you think the most vibrant Mexican food scene is? Not one restaurant, but a city or area. LA? Chicago? Santa Fe? Somewhere in Texas? And why?

3) And from Inside the Chef's Kitchen: what would you choose as your last meal? (And, I guess, what is your favorite curse word and how often do the line cooks hear it? :wink:)

Thank you again for taking your time to entertain and inform us food geeks.

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