PHOTOGRAPHY BY GRACE RIVERA
When Top Chef Masters alum Franklin Becker took over the restaurant at New York City’s Hôtel Americano, his first thought was to explore cuisine from south of the border. “I came back from a trip to Mexico City,” Becker recalls, “and I realized how diverse my staff is. I saw a Peruvian chef, an Ecuadorian chef, a Colombian, a Salvadorean. I said, ‘Can you start cooking the dishes you grew up on? I want to try them.’”
A concept emerged: Becker built the menu at the reimagined restaurant, La Central (which opened in January), around his cooks’ family favorites. The enchilada recipe, for instance, comes from line cook Roberto Martínez, a native of Puebla, Mexico. The restaurant’s kitchen staff braises chicken as if it were for a soup, then removes the meat from the bones and reheats it in the broth—a method Martínez learned from his grandmother. Then, Becker explains, “the tortillas are dipped into that broth before being rolled and topped with cheese, cream, and salsa verde. It’s home cooking at its best.”
In the same vein, Peruvian junior sous chef Marco Castro developed a duck confit fried rice inspired by Peru’s many Chinese fusion restaurants (chifas); Guadalajara, Mexico–born pastry chef Cesar Moreno created churro waffles, served with goat milk dulce de leche; and line cook Lucero Gutiérrez brought salsa recipes from her hometown of Cholula, also in Puebla.
“The recipes have been passed down in my family, starting with my great-grandmother and then my grandmother and now me,” Gutiérrez says. “A great salsa can add so much to a dish, including flavor, heat, freshness, texture, and even authenticity.” That last quality was paramount for Becker. Unable to find a purveyor of the essential puya chili (which is like a smaller, hotter guajillo), he asked Gutiérrez to call her relatives and have them ship some to New York.
“In kitchens all over the world, you will find immigrants with incredible culinary talent,” Becker says. “They are too often unsung. I will do this in every kitchen I open from now on.”