EXCLUSIVE: Angelo Sosa from 'Top Chef' On His Tia Carmen's Food: "You’d Want To Eat The Air"

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Angelo Sosa’s career has been very flavorful lately. 

The half-Dominican Top Chef alum recently returned from a trip to Korea, where he learned how to make kimchi and the art behind soy sauce. That’s quite a leap from where the Connecticut-bred chef began; as a young boy, Sosa would often assist his Dominican father in the kitchen.

Sosa has an arresting resume under his belt, which includes working with legendary French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and consultation work. The chef also competed in Top Chef All-Stars and launched NYC’s Social Eatz in New York City this past March, which has since been awarded the “Best Burger in New York City,” according to a readers’ choice poll by Eater.com. 

We spoke to the handsome chef recently and he shared insight into his trip to Korea and how his upbringing influenced his culinary career.

Tell us about your trip to Korea.

It was mind-blowing and totally inspiring. I had amazing experiences from learning how to make kimchi – not only learning how to make it, but doing it in such a serene environment, literally on the hilltops of a mountain, surrounded by bamboo trees and near this 300-year-old house. It was so surreal and so tranquil. We went to this farm where they make soy sauce and this Korean chili paste; and we learned the process of it and how it’s such a spiritual act. The master who makes it holds the soy sauce and these pastes in these clay pots and almost treats them as her babies. All in all, it was an incredible trip.

What did people think of your burger over there? 

Wow! I think they were really fascinated. When they ate it, they really thought it was prepared by a Korean chef or a Korean grandmother. It really was the essence of the true dish of the Bibimpap. It was almost as if they didn’t understand – it didn’t make sense when they looked at me! [Laughs]

Speaking of burgers, how did the concept behind Social Eatz come about?

Social Eatz is a concept of American fair or classes with Asian spins to it. Americans love things like hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, French fries, but what I wanted to do is use that as a foundation of a menu and introduce Asian flavors in a very non-Asian way.

On Twitter you were trying a new dish with roast plantain, tequila and brown sugar. Sounds delicious! What was the inspiration for that and how did it taste?

You know what I’m starting to realize in being half-Dominican? I love spicy food, I like spices, and I think spices are the way of life. I think the banana was an inspiration of going back to my roots and trying to bring out more of that Latin side. We roasted the whole banana until the skin was black but inside, you’d get that roasted steamed flavor of the banana, but then we glazed with the tequila syrup to contrast. Right now in my life and career, it’s going back to the roots and finding these foods that are memory builders or just comforting.

You’re half Italian and half Dominican. Tell us about your upbringing and how that influenced your culinary career.

[Laughs] Little did I know is that it would impact me and that I would be a chef today. Food, especially in the Latino family, is the nucleus of the home. I come from a very big family and I didn’t have a normal childhood. I spent my weekends cooking with my father and working the garden on early Saturday mornings. When I was done with chores, I could go play. I was always my father’s “little sous chef.” It was in my blood and I think my true inspiration was my aunt Carmen. While opening the door, you’d really want to eat the air. It was mesmerizing and appetizing. All the kids would run into the backyard, and I would run into the kitchen, pull up a stool, and watch my aunt cook.

What are your favorite Latino holiday foods?

When I think of Dominican food, I think of my aunt Carmen. I think it’s this bacalao – this codfish that she cooked with olives and tomatoes… I could still remember the taste to this day.

What are you most thankful for this year?

That’s easy. I’m thankful that God gave me the talents to live out my life through my passions and that I could affect peoples’ lives through my cooking.

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