Latino food has always been a big hit in the U.S., but it has never been as huge as it is now! With the U.S. Latino population standing at 40 million strong, more and more Latino chefs are opening their own restaurants, starring in TV shows and publishing great cookbooks. Want to know who our top chefs are, or how the Nuevo Latino cuisine explosion began?
Here are the new faces—and some familiar ones—at the forefront of the next Latino food revolution.
1. Chef Jose Garces
Ecuadorian American Garces may be the top Latino rising chef in the country. He won the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s "Best Chef Mid-Atlantic" in 2009, won The Next Iron Chef in 2009 and has seven highly successful restaurants in Philadelphia and another in Chicago. His food? Everything from Spanish and Basque tapas to Mexican to a Peruvian-Chinese. Garces is a one-man testament to our diversity.
2. Chef Jose Andres
You can thank this español for introducing the concept of tapas (or small plates) to the United States via a cookbook and several restaurants in Washington DC. The idea—the anti-thesis of gargantuan Cheesecake Factory portions—caught on like wildfire, but the award-winning chef will break even more new ground, opening a Mexican-Chinese fusion restaurant in the brand-new Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas in December. Meanwhile, he and his mentor, legendary Spanish chef Ferran Adriá, are teaching a course on food chemistry at Harvard.
3. Chef Douglas Rodriguez
This godfather of Nuevo Latino cuisine made our food upscale and suddenly chic in the 1990s. So this cubano is not exactly an up-and-comer, but he’s innovating yet again, with De Rodriguez Cuba, a new Miami restaurant that elevates street food (he makes fritas, or Cuban-style hamburgers, with Kobe beef) and features playful dishes like rabo en lata (oxtail in a can). Yum.
4. Chef Marcela Vallodolid
The charming San Diego native has made it her mission to make Mexican food accessible to the masses, via her uber-watchable show, the Food Network's Mexican Made Easy, which is in its second season.
5. Chef Julieta Ballesteros
Considered one of the best chefs in New York City, her expert blending of Mexican dishes with French cooking methods and presentation have made her Crema restaurant a prime example of Mexican cuisine’s sophistication and possibilities.
6. Chef Zarela Martínez
Zarela is responsible for helping Americans realize that real Mexican food is not about nachos and burritos. Now, the owner of Zarela in New York and mom to Food Network star Aarón Sanchez, is expanding her educational efforts. She’s the coordinator of a new food program, Food Is Art, at the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York. It will feature cooking demos and events hosted by top chefs and feature workshops on Mexican ingredients like chiles and heirloom tomatoes.
7. Chef David Ruiz
Tequila bars that feature nothing but the strong stuff are all the rage right now and you can thank Mexican American David Ruiz for helping people see the fiery drink as more than a margarita ingredient. He owns and operates tequilatours.com, which takes bartenders and food industry people to the heart of tequila-making country in Guadalajara and hosts the annual World International Tequila Conference.
8. Chef Joseluis Flores
His boss (Douglas Rodriguez) may have pioneered Nuevo Latino cuisine, but Mexican American pastry chef Flores is helping lead the next wave. Flores introduces incredible Latin American desserts, such as churros y chocolate and pan de bono, to the American consciousness in Rodriguez’s restaurants nationwide. Check out his new book, Dulce: Desserts in the Latin American Tradition.
9. Chefs Michelle and Vinny Garcia
Michelle and Vinny Garcia
Think that sustainable food is not really a Latino thing? Wrong. At Bleeding Heart Bakery, this Chicago couple, who have been featured on many Food Network Cake Challenges, make their delicious, punk-inspired desserts—some with a Latin twist like Dia de los Muertos-inspired cakes and mojito cupcakes—with local ingredients.
10. Chef Anthony Lamas
Nominated for the James Beard “Best Chef of the Southeast” award this year, Lamas brought Nuevo Latino to Kentucky, of all places, through his Seviche restaurant. The boricua’s menu blends local ingredients with Latino faves (such as Kentucky bison empanadas with avocado, jalapeno and cilantro). His latest coup? His food was featured and served at the Taste of Derby.
11. Chef Leticia Moreinos
Moreinos has mad culinary chops, having worked at such elite restaurants as New York’s Le Cirque and La Grenouille. But when it came time for this French-trained Rio native to pen her first cookbook she went native. With The Brazilian Kitchen: 100 Classic and Contemporary Recipes for the Home Cook an American audience can finally improve its knowledge of the country’s cuisine beyond Brazilian steak.
12. Chef Ingrid Hoffman
This colombiana blends Rachel Ray’s accessibility with a touch of Latin creativity to make quick but impressive Latin meals on her Food Network show, Simply Delicioso. With food like baked Costa Rican-style tilapia with pineapples, and sweet potato over fries with avocado dip and chipotle tamale pie, she makes blending Latin food into every day American life easy and irresistible.
13. Chefs: The Robledo Family
Featuring wines with names like “El Rey” and “La Familia,” it’s clear that for the Robledos, Latin pride is built into their products. Reynaldo Robledo rose from being an immigrant field worker to starting Robledo Family Winery, which makes over $1 million a year.
14. Chef Maricel Presilla
When President Obama put together Fiesta Latina White House celebration, his people called on Cuban-born Presilla to make the pan-Latino meal. She served Puerto Rican pasteles alongside Brazilian black-eyed pea arrumadinho alongside Guatemalan slaw. Mixing our cultures on a menu is what the woman does best! The two-time James Beard award nominee for Best Chef-Northeast, owns two loved pan-Latino restaurants in Hoboken, New Jersey. But she’s also a leading scholar on Latin and Spanish culinary history who has put out cookbooks that changed the American perception of Latin food.