Local chefs say inspirations come from mixing cultural tastes
"How do you make recipes?" asked a young patron from Grayslake Area Public Library.
Like a cherished object passed from generation to generation, recipes are more than a road map to a delicious dish. The resulting foods are centerpieces for valued family traditions.
Recipes penned in grandma's cursive might become a bountiful brisket for Passover, sweet gujiya treats for Holi, an array of Italian seafood dishes for Christmas Eve or the most delectable sweet potato pie to top off a satisfying Thanksgiving meal.
There's a wonderful sense of accomplishment gained from adventures in the kitchen, putting a pinch of this and a tablespoon of that to work developing signature dishes.
Modifying an old favorite like chocolate chip cookies by adding chunks from a favorite candy bar, borrowing a sauce from one recipe and swirling it onto something outside the cereal box can be a fun way to delight your taste buds and thrill your family and friends.
Sometimes the newest recipes circle back to those old tried-and-true favorites grandma might have prepared, like fried chicken, green beans with bacon and stuffing, or reflect a blend of the best cultural traditions to create new crowd-pleasing favorites.
Two local chefs -- Sunil Kumar and Julio Sarabia -- say their inspiration for creating recipes comes from merging tasty cultural traditions.
Kumar, executive chef at Marigold Maison in Lincolnshire and Scottsdale, Arizona, prepares Indian recipes with a global flavor.
"I'm from Punjab, where 100,000 people are served every day at the Golden Temple."
The Sikh temple is the world's largest free kitchen and dishes out hot meals of daal, rotis and kheer to visitors who come to worship or to marvel at the spectacular edifice. Kumar's father's job in the army required his family to move every three months, so he seized the opportunity to taste foods from the different Indian states. He enjoyed traditional local dishes --
"We exchanged food with neighbors," he said.
When he moved to the U.S., he lived in Connecticut and contributed recipes to "Mystic Seaport Global Feast Cookbook." Now that he lives in Chicago and Arizona, Kumar is relishing cultural variety and is inspired by Mexican flavors.
His process for creating new recipes involves preparing the recipe numerous times and inviting another cook to follow his recipe before he places the new dish on the menu. The barbecue sauce Kumar bakes into the restaurant's meat preparations was created using this process. He sampled spices from a few cuisines, settling on an Indian-Mexican mix.
"Mexican spices work well with Indian spice," he said. "I use tamarind, chipotle and guajillo to create a barbecue sauce that's a little sweet with a little heat."
Sarabia, co-owner with his sister Alma of Samari's Sweet Creations in Mundelein, doesn't publish a menu since he's always creating new dessert treats for his customers.
"Samari's is not your typical Mexican bakery. I love Japanese food and use French, Italian and Mexican favorites to create new recipes," Sarabia said.
He uses a base built from the many cultures representing Mexico's various regions and combines them with other known showstopping desserts.
"I keep the traditional, but with a twist."
The display case is filled with dozens of tarts and pastries. Some are traditional and some are unique, like a flavorful Italian tiramisu cake with creamy Mexican tres leches filling.
"We know that the combinations will taste great," he said, because they are well-loved traditional recipes.
Multiple tries in the kitchen -- trial and error -- result in new recipes for Samari's sweets-loving customers.
Check it outThe Grayslake Area Public Library suggests these titles on cooking:
• "Chef" by Ian F. Mahaney
• "The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs from America's Test Kitchen"
• "Food: 25 Amazing Projects" by Kathleen M. Reilly
• "Look, I'm a Cook" edited by Helene Hilton*
• "National Geographic Kids Cookbook" by Barton Seaver