The Dominican Republic may be paradise to many but its cooking hasn't yet made much of a dent in the UK. The Dominican Gastronomic Network (GastroDR) launched last week with a view to redressing this as well as tackling its own country's problems of obesity and malnutrition.
"We want our chefs to transcend the boundaries of the Dominican Republic," said its Ambassador Federico Alberto Cuello Camilo at the inaugural dinner at Hispania Restaurant on Sunday, "but we also hope to educate people in the Dominican Republic because we have our own challenges".
Showcasing its cuisine and leading the network are seven of the country's top chefs: Carlos Estévez, María Marte (winner of two Michelin stars), Diana Munné, Inés Páez (Tita), Gabriella Reginato, Laura Rizek and Emil Vega. With much of the DR's food served as fried and fatty, the chefs want to transform perceptions of its cuisine.
Award-winning Chef María Marte worked her way up from dishwasher to head chef of Madrid’s El Club Allard restaurant. Arriving from the Dominican Republic, she battled Spain's tough kitchens as an immigrant female and is reported to have said “I had arrived in Madrid as a fighter, and once I was here I turned into a dreamer,”. The allure of high-end gastronomy has earned her many plaudits and helped to win the establishment two Michelin stars.
Diners can expect some excellent, innovative and high-end dishes served by these chefs in the future. An amuse-bouche ball of oxtail served at the seven-course dinner was beautifully rich and flavoursome, pre-empting the earthy Dominican sausage appetizer that came with a punchy sancocho - a soupy stew made from mixed meats, tripe and root vegetables.
The simplicity of fresh discs of lobster in creole brine contrasted well with the wonderful intensity of the plantain mofongo croquettes filled with Dominican-style stewed crab - one of the nicest savouries I've tasted in a while.
Caribbean red snapper came with a coconut and lime sauce - almost Thai in taste possibly explained by both countries sharing the same longitude, with clams, octopus and cassava "spiders". Pinky lamb chops are stewed with curry goat sauce - a little strange - and a knobbly, crumbly chenchén corn and cassava bread.
Dessert uses a more vegetable-based palate - spiced sweet red bean mousse in white chocolate with caramelised sweet potatoes or an excellent guava marmaladewith Maria cookie sand.
Carlos Estévez has said:"With GastroDR, we are realising the dream of many professional Dominican chefs and working together to demonstrate that Dominican cuisine is one of the best in the world for its high quality ingredients, its rich and authentic flavors and diversity of its dishes and techniques."