Blend 111 is an immersive experience — not immersive into just one culture, but a celebration of the entirety of Latin America’s diversity. And for National Hispanic Heritage Month, that experience is expanding beyond Blend 111’s usual kitchen.
In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs September 15 to October 15, Blend 111 is hosting five chefs who will each contribute a dish to the five-course tasting dinner. The chefs each come from different restaurants, and their dishes represent the diversity found in Latin American culture — a culture with nuances often overlooked by Americans.
“It’s a very big, diverse culture that comprises different people from different walks of life and also different flavors,” Andrés-Julian Zuluaga, Blend 111’s executive chef, says. “The biodiversity you see from Mexico all the way down to Ecuador and Peru is really great. I think it’s underrepresented.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month could be seen as celebrating one culture, in the eyes of many. But Blend 111 is pushing back on this. Latin America has a wealth of diversity — diversity that can be tasted through different foods and years of tradition and preservation.
“It gets down to the individual chefs coming [to] really [represent] their traditions and heritage, and not from specific countries in some cases, but specific regions and villages where their family came from,” Michael Biddick, Blend 111’s owner and sommelier, explains. “They’re bringing recipes and dishes that have been passed on in their families.”
When it came to deciding which chefs to invite, Zuluaga was conscious of his options. But what he wanted went beyond what you’d find on a plate.
“It was very natural,” Zuluaga says. “I wanted to invite five chefs that are of the Latin American culture [and] maybe a little more underrepresented in the D.C. area.”
Chefs Inti Villalobos-Coady, Alam Mendez, Isabel Coss, Mario Monte and Courtney Lewis are each serving a course, including a ceviche dish, mojo pork and mole tamal. Zuluaga explained that, for example, when he emailed with chef Isabel Coss and she described the heritage and history behind her mole tamal dish, a recipe handed down from her grandmother, he knew he needed it.
“That’s why we do this dinner — to not only benefit Ayuda and celebrate Latin American culture, but to celebrate our ancestors and recipes passed down through generations,” Zuluaga says. “It was very special to have that kind of dish included.”
For Zuluaga, whose mother is Puerto Rican and father is Colombian, food has always been about identity and celebration. And mixing identities and culture to make creative Latin cuisine is something Blend 111 strives for, while also honoring tradition and authenticity.
“Food is such a huge part in what we are and how we see ourselves and how we see our whole community,” Zuluaga says. “It’s really important that the chefs share the kind of cooking that they experienced at home with the guests that will come to the dinner as well. And that’s our celebration of the culture in general.”
A portion of the dinner’s proceeds will go to Ayuda, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting low-income immigrants through legal, social and language services and support. It’s Blend 111’s first time working with the organization, and Biddick hopes the night impacts the organization in two ways: securing financial support and increasing community visibility.
“When we looked at different ways to celebrate Latin American heritage and culture, and instead of just doing a theme-based dinner we really wanted to have an event which gave back to the community,” Biddick says. “And that’s why we looked to do more of a benefit dinner, and teaming with Ayuda really made sense because they’re directly helping immigrants.”
It was important to Biddick and Zuluaga that the dinner celebrate, honor, support and share Latin American culture for Hispanic Heritage Month. And guests can anticipate the immersive environment Blend 111 has been known to offer — including a playlist of niche old Latin American and Afro Caribbean music.
“The logistics of pulling together five different chefs from five different restaurants and organizations to do one dinner at a restaurant is something pretty unique and special,” Biddick says. “Our hope is they walk away from this just completely blown away by the experience and everything they’ve tried and tasted.”
The dinner will be held September 29 with options for dining indoors or outdoors. Reservation options start at 5:30 at $185 per person, plus optional beverage pairing $55 per person. Ten percent of proceeds will go to Ayuda. The event will implement social distancing and cleaning for Covid-19 safety, and stay up to date with local guidelines.
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