Under the Influence
Today’s most innovative chefs are finding inspiration around the world and right at home
America’s appetite for international cuisine is legendary, with globally inspired restaurants providing a taste of far-off lands to generations of diners hungry for a culinary journey. While that’s still true today, the rules are looser, giving chefs the freedom to take recipes from around the world and make them their own.
At Crown Republic Gastropub in Cincinnati, co-founder and executive chef Anthony Sitek draws from Spain, Greece, Morocco, Italy and beyond for his rustic New American menu.
“I put the menu together by going over what people want that’s different, but familiar,” Sitek says. “We make everything from scratch using the freshest ingredients.”
He cites the Yemeni mussels as a familiar dish with an important twist.
“Instead of using a traditional coconut curry, we’re doing a Moroccan curry, which is sweeter and not as spicy,” he says. “It’s a totally different take on curry, and people repeatedly tell us it’s the best mussel dish in the city.”
Crown Republic’s pappardelle, meanwhile, injects an Old-World classic with southern flavor.
“We make our own country ham in-house that we use in the Bolognese,” Sitek explains. “Putting Kentucky ham into Bolognese sounds unusual, but it adds a saltiness and smokiness that you’re not going to get anywhere else.”
Todd Mitgang, executive chef at TacoVision in New York, entices a new generation of diners with an innovative menu that combines Mexico City street food with NYC attitude. In keeping with the times, fully a third of the menu is vegan, including a popular vegan chorizo taco that uses chopped mushrooms and chorizo spices in place of pork.
“It has a little heat, a little smoke, it’s heavily spiced and it tastes like chorizo,” Mitgang says. “It’s not just a delicious vegan taco, it’s a delicious taco.”
Nir Caspi, CEO and cofounder of Café Landwer, brings a taste of modern Israel to Cambridge, Mass.
“The menu’s the Mediterranean food that I used to eat when I was a kid in Israel,” Caspi explains. “It’s a melting pot of all the people who came to Israel 70 years ago from all around the world, and we want to bring that experience to the United States.”
The restaurant’s top seller by far is its shakshuka.
“It’s a Mediterranean dish with poached egg in tomato sauce, and we have a variety, including shakshuka Mediterranean with eggplant and feta cheese and shakshuka with crispy halloumi cheese,” he says. “We even have vegan shakshuka, which uses a unique vegan meatball that we make from a mix of carrots, beets, onion and a vegetable protein called TVP.”