Bravotv.com: Chef, were you a Top Chef fan before appearing on the show? To your knowledge, is it fairly popular in Puerto Rico?
I watch TC often and is quite popular in PR. There are a lot of foodies here!
Bravotv.com:What were you expecting before beginning your gig as guest judge?
I was expecting a group of motivated and creative young chefs to present their craft and they did.
Bravotv.com: First the Quickfire -- which dishes impressed you the most? Didn't impress you?
I loved Stephanie's "toston" with the tuna tataki not only for it's great flavor and great presentation but as well its perfect bite-size as well. My least favored fritter was Richard's.
Bravotv.com: For those unfamiliar with Puerto Rican cuisine, how important is the plantain? What are some other flavors and ingredients commonly used in traditional Puerto Rican cuisine?
The plantain is the equivalent of the potato for us because of its versatility and presence on our daily menus. Sweet and salty is probably the most authentic flavor combination in PR as ripe plantains are used in so many dishes in combination with savory elements, as well as a popular side dish we call "maduros," in fact so much that plantains in its "arañitas" are included in my offer at the Aspen Wine Classic next week.
Bravotv.com: Do you happen to have an easy fritter recipe you'd be willing to share?
Of course I do. "Almojabanas" or rice flour "Beigniets" which I love to watch fry since they turn themselves over in the fryer as they get golden brown on one side. (Recipe on Page 4).
Bravotv.com: Onto the Elimination -- which dishes impressed you/didn't impress you?
I loved the overall use of the pork by Richard, but especially I liked the belly with its crispy skin and the pickled vegetable as well as the Ham and Eggs was a beautiful and tasty rendering, but my absolute favorite was the ribs with the "malta" glaze which was not only clever but certainly original in using local elements in its recipes. Another element I loved was from Stephanie. I really liked the small "blini" like ripe plantain mini pancakes.
Bravotv.com: How close was the call between Lisa or Antonia going home?
I felt there was a clear distance between them greatly attributed to the undercooking of the pigeon peas and the lack of a cleaner presentation on the following dishes. Conceptually I liked how Antonia wanted to somewhat implode to reconstruct the concept used locally of everything in the same plate but in the end she was not able to bring a great conceptual idea to the plate this time.
Bravotv.com: Did you have a prediction at that point as to who will be crowned Top Chef?
I think Richard will be the winner -- to me he is clearly out of the contestants the one with the greater amount of experience conceptual, clarity, and developed technique as well as flavor accuracy by a significant margin.
Bravotv.com: Anything else you'd like to add? And where can people learn more about you/your cuisine?
Thanks for having me on your show.I truly loved your show format even more after having participated as a judge and first hand having contact with Tom, Padma, and the participants. It is truly reality TV. Serious foodies should give PR a try since our gastronomic offer local or international is a great one from traditional roasted pig to more elaborate contemporary renditions.
You can get more info on my restaurants and career path at www.wilobenet.com.
Puerto Rico: True Flavors by Wilo Benet
Section II: Fritters
Rice flour and cheese fritters
Makes 2 dozen
Almojábanas are a traditional family treat. Because their taste is a bit neutral, they are commonly served drizzled with honey or pancake syrup or served as a dipping treat for hot chocolate.
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups enriched rice flour
12 ounces queso fresco del pais*,
crumbled vegetable oil for frying
1. In a round-edged saucepan over medium heat, bring the milk to a boil, and stir in the salt. Add the rice flour, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Transfer to a bowl, and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Once the dough has cooled to the point where you can handle it with your hands, incorporate the eggs (one by one) into the dough to form a thick smooth batter. At this point, incorporate the crumbled cheese.
3. In a frying pan, or a deep fryer, heat about 3 inches of vegetable oil to 350°F. Carefully drop tablespoonfuls of the Almojábana batter, in batches, into the hot oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown, turning occasionally to make sure the fritters brown evenly.
4. Using a slotted spoon, remove the Almojábanas from the oil, and set aside to drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.