A few months ago, a close friend who happens to run a cattle ranch and loves all things beef, sent me a tiny article about Kalych Padro. This well-traveled chef (born in Puerto Rico, studied in Arizona and Lyon, France, cooked in Texas, Dominican Republic and Panama City) gave sushi a whole new meaning when he filled it with braised skirt steak and traditional Latin flavors while at the Veneto Hotel & Casino.
So simple an idea, yet so contrary to the fundamentals of what we understand as sushi. Did it work? Do customers like it? Padro seems to think so and spent some time with us explaining the inspiration for steak sushi and its tasty future.
Toque: Were you one of the first chefs to create a steak version of sushi? What was your inspiration?
Padro: I don’t know if I was the first one, but my inspiration was creating a version of Latin sushi to please all my guests at the hotel. Sushi is [associated] with raw fish and some people are afraid to eat it. That’s the main reason I created this concept.
I love Nuevo Latino Cuisine, which I call Nuevo Latino Revolution. It’s combining all the flavors of traditional cuisine in Latin America: Asian, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Columbian. I also happen to love Angus beef and I was breaking my head thinking of a way to incorporate the beef into my sushi bar without putting it into a traditional saute dish.
Toque: Why is sushi so popular in Panama?
Padro: Panama is influenced by a lot of Asian cultures because of the Panama Canal. Sushi here is as popular as it is in California and there are lots of sushi places (too many, I think!) and they all seem to be doing great. I think the locals absorbed this style of food because it is a healthy way to eat.
Toque: What is parrillero?
Padro: ¨Parrillero¨ in Spanish means “cooking meat over an open fire.” But on my menu parrillero is a sushi roll made of nori (seaweed wrap), skirt steak, chimichurri, queso fresco, cilantro rice and chipotle mayonnaise.
Toque: What other versions of sushi are you working on?
Padro: I have¨Del Interior,¨ (which means from the interior of the country). It is a roll made of roasted pork, yellow rice, cilantro, quail eggs, smoked onions, nori and crispy pork skin. I’m also working with ingredients such as ripe plantain, home cheese, chicken rice and other local ingredients.
Toque: What has been your customers’ reaction?
Padro: UUUUUFFF (this is Panamanian for “are you kidding me??”) — my guests love it! and locals come every day to enjoy one of them. Of course there are the traditional sushi eaters who want to stay with the classics but that’s fine with me. The culinary arts are an evolution: Every day some people decide to stay with the classics, while others (like me) want to expose their tongue and senses to new flavors and combinations.
Toque: Does steak pair well with rice? What are some of the ingredient variations you’ve decided to make to pair better with beef?
Padro: Steak, rice, beans and egg are always good together. And you just reminded me of a traditional Puerto Rican dish! I add chimichurri, chipotle and cilantro, among many other flavorings.
Toque: Do you know of any chefs in the States who are experimenting with steak sushi?
Padro: Not at the moment.
Toque: Do Panamanians prefer beef over fish? Is there a fish shortage in Panama?
Padro: The steak sushi roll sells like crazy but in Panama there are all kinds of fish. The people are blessed by two oceans, 45 minutes from each other. So there’s a great selection for the local chefs.