Chef Cesar Zapata of Miami's 'The Federal' Shares Sizzling Summer Grilling Tips & Spicy Green Marinade
"SABOR" is a food & wine and lifestyle series that savors Latinos' zest for life and passion for home and family.
Grilling season is upon us! So if you like charred, smoky meats, poultry and seafood and killer summer marinades, then you're in luck.
Colombian-American Chef Cesar Zapata, the "Stove Master and Pig Whisperer" at The Federal Food, Drink & Provisions in Miami, couldn't be more thrilled and nostalgic as grilling brings him back to his childhood savoring grilled meats in the mountains of Colombia.
"Grilling is one of my passions as it's been part of my life ever since I was a young boy. I remember as a child we would go into the mountains and enjoy ternera a la llanera (Colombian style barbeque) with my family, and we're talking about a huge extended family," Chef Zapata, who is also Executive Chef of the Pious Pig Restaurant Group, told Latin Post in an exclusive interview.
"It was always a party, lots of kids running around, aguardiente flowing, musica vieja (old songs) playing in the background, and even members of the family playing instruments. We would have large cuts of pork and beef roasting on a spit over open coals, sancocho (typical Colombian soup) would be boiling away, someone would be making morcilla, chorizo, empanadas and arepas too, these are fond memories."
Born in Medellin, Colombia, Chef Zapata and his family relocated to Paterson, New Jersey when he was 9 years old. While his parents worked, he perfected his cooking skills at home, holding down the culinary fort.
With time, he perfected his family's Colombian recipes and also incorporated the Italian-American dishes that saturated his neighborhood. Upon moving to Texas as a young adult, Chef Zapata further opened his senses and found an intense passion for "the flavors, spice and techniques of Texas barbeque and smoking, the strong Mexican influence, and the seafood bounty of the Gulf."
There he also perfected the art of grilling, which has a rich yet rugged history immersed in Latin roots.
"Grilling comes from a history of Latin cowboys and cattle farmers and the way they would spend time with friends and family," he explained. "In Argentina, the Gauchos have their Parrilladas, in Colombia, Llaneros roast large cuts of meat over open coals and charcoal. These have to be my two favorites!"
As a self-proclaimed "medium-rare" kind of guy, Chef Zapata loves to cook meats and seafood on the grill. During the summertime, he also ups the ante on his marinades, including his "Spicy Green Marinade."
"I always add some form of Tabasco to my marinades," he said. "Depending on the flavor profile we're going for, we do Chipotle for smokey, Classic Red for the right amount of tang and Jalapeño Green for a mild flavor."
Considering it's the "Grilling Month" of July Chef Zapata decided to divulge the secret behind a great marinade.
"When I light up the grill, I actually love to grill shrimp and squid, any type of seafood really. I make a marinade using fresh jalapeños, lime, cilantro, coriander seed, cumin, sour orange and olive oil," he said.
When cooking with different types of meats -- from pork, beef to chicken, Chef Zapata stresses the need to use different marinades.
"Yes, each protein should be treated different," he pointed out. "For beef, I like marinades to have more of a punch, so I like using fresh and dried chilies, like jalapenos, chipotle and stronger herbs such as rosemary and oregano. For pork, I like marinades to be a little fruitier, and yellow mustard always works great. Chicken, a marinade with lemons garlic, thyme, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil will do the job."
With a great sense of humor and as someone who is always pushing the envelope, Chef Zapata's top three favorite culinary inventions in the Latin food arena include: "The creation of Mexican mole (few sauces are as complex as this), empanadas colombianas and whole roasted animals in a 'caja china'... oh and of course sancudos (mosquitoes) a la parilla (jk)."
Check out one of Chef Zapata's favorite marinade recipes:
Spicy Green Marinade Recipe:
1 bunch fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch scallions
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons Triguisar Latin spice blend
1 tablespoon TABASCO® Green Jalapeño
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 cup vegetable oil
Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until slightly chunky
Pour into a large zip top bag and add desired meat
Seal bag and place in glass dish and set in refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours