Thursday, March 11, 2010

Meet Ana Victoria Mas from Panama

How did you become an Embassy Chef?

I was working at Palena, a well known restaurant in the DC area and under Chef Frank Ruta’s direction for a few months, doing my Optional Practical Training (OPT) when I received a call from the Embassy of Panama with an offer to occupy the position of Head of Protocol and Events which included all responsibilities of a professional Chef in addition to the Embassy Protocol, and organization of all the events. I found this offer to be a huge opportunity since I would be able to learn new skills that are an asset to a Chef’s career. On the other hand, I also feel very grateful to be working in a place that gives me the opportunity to learn so much and in addition, to help my country. This is definitely a very challenging job and I am loving it.

Where did you train?

I performed a Culinary Arts Major at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. I am currently 21 years old. Before going to culinary school I had some experience working with a Thai inspired restaurant named Twist and at a Catering business called “La Petite Cuisine” both in the Republic of Panama. I later did an internship for six months in the catering department at Dean and Deluca here in Washington D.C. (where I fell in love with the city).

After my graduation as a Chef, on February 2009, I worked under Chef Ruta at Palena where I feel I learned a great deal and acquired important tools to become a good and strong Chef.

What is your favorite dish to make?

Difficult question, I enjoy making many dishes. I would have to say that I really enjoy making plantain gnocchi. I love using plantain in my cooking and getting the perfect texture for the gnocchi is a bit of a challenge, but when I blanch or fry them and their shape and texture turns out exactly as I wanted it to be, it turns out to be very rewarding.

What was the most difficult part of the March 7th Challenge?

Definitely not knowing what ingredients I would have to cook with. Usually you have a pretty strong image in your head about the finished dish when you cook, but by not knowing what I would cook with, my mind was a complete blank and that made me a little nervous. Although, I must say, I had a lot of fun in this competition! Now I want to enter every competition I can, because I now realize that I can do a great dish in spite of the pressure.

Why do you think you made the winning dish?

I think I made a winning dish because I was meticulous when putting together my dish. I did not put anything on that plate that was “just there”. Every single ingredient that I mixed had a particular purpose and added something valuable to the plate. And this is what I think makes a winning dish. For example, my dish was composed of seven main components: a salmon cheesecake, a sunchoke potato pureé, a cucumber and pea broth, a slightly cured piece of seared salmon, a mussel cooked in cream, pernod, granny apples, dill and heavy cream, a touch of truffle oil and fried fava beans.

The Swedish cheese in the salmon cheesecake served underneath the sunchoke and potato puree added extra creaminess to the dish. The cucumber and pea broth was cooked with chicken stock and brought freshness and a light feel to the creamy puree, the fattiness of the salmon and the fattiness of the mussel sauce. For an added crunchy texture I fried fava beans. At last, a touch of truffle oil made the entire dish brighten with nutty aromas and made the flavor of the fava beans come alive, even after being fried.

See, if you just put food on a plate so that it looks nice, or fills the space, you don’t really develop the complexity and profoundness that you can achieve when you meticulously think about each detail of your finished piece of work. I consider this dish was a very strong piece of art I created.

What is your favorite restaurant in DC?

Not because I worked there, but Palena is still my favorite restaurant in town. I have been to many restaurants in this city and although the food they offer is great, Palena impresses me the most.

My favorite dish at Palena is the Consommé. This Consommé is nothing like you have tasted before. I love its scent of juniper berries. I enjoy every sip I take of this mastered clear soup, like tasting a little bit of heaven!

Don't miss the action on March 18th for the final part of the Embassy Chef Challenge!

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