Transforming Honduras Through the Kitchen

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chef José Escalante for a while during Easter Week. We chatted about a little bit of everything regarding Honduran cuisine; from what his impressions are on Honduran culinary art and the potential it represents for our economy, to what he and his business partner, Amanda Bermúdez, are doing to propel the development of the field through their new project, Rojo Loft. Escalante is originally from Guatemala and has been a resident in Honduras for about eight years. He shares that he considers himself almost a Honduran with a kind smile.

I have been living here for 8 years, so I am almost Honduran. What has kept me so happy for years in Honduras is that I love Honduran gastronomy.

The Chef demos the correct chopping technique on cilantro.
The Chef demos the correct chopping technique on cilantro in the course «Cocina Fría de Verano» (Cold Cuisine for Summer). || Photo: V. Arita || Tegucigalpa || April 2014

Honduran Gastronomy: a Narrator with Great Potential

Escalante can transfer a positive vibe to anyone who will listen; the way he expresses his thoughts on Honduran gastronomy is truly inspiring. He considers that the culinary filed in Honduras is a source of opportunities and deserving of attention due to its transformational potential for the country.

To me, Honduran culinary is an unspoiled field where if we know how to project it in a healthy and correct way, along with a structure in tourism, it has the potential to become a country brand as it was done in Thailand, as done in Mexico, as done in Japan. Their cuisines are country brands, just as it is in France, Spain and above all in Peru.

He also enthusiastically mentions the wide range of flavors we have in Honduras, influenced by all of the people and different cultures that have come to the country, turning Honduran cuisine into one that stands out from the rest because of its ability to tell stories. We have dishes that have become typical in Honduras that can be attributed to these other cultures. For example, we have Honduran fried rice, which is different from any other stir fry in the world. Marmahón (referred to as Israeli Couscous outside of Honduras) is a dish with Middle Easter roots that is eaten fairly often in Honduran homes. He also mentioned a peculiar story dating back to the time when people from India were brought over to work in Honduras within the banana industry. He goes on to tell that these people from India wanted to make their typical naan bread (flat bread) and that at the wheat mills they found the flour necessary to make it. In this way, they created flour tortillas, to which they added beans and cheese. And so in this way the famous Honduran baleada was created. If you have ever been curious about the small bags you find in supermarkets or markets simply marked «especias» (spices), José Escalante explains it very well.

Especias are not just cumin and pepper. It is a masala (spice mix) of cumin, pepper, oregano, bay leaf, and thyme and you can find it in the home of all Hondurans. That speaks a lot to the history and to the influence of cuisines that are completely separated from what we conceive as typical. I would go so far as to say that Honduras is the only country in the region that uses this cumin and pepper in this way.

With this degree of enthusiasm is that this foreign national’s viewpoint defines Honduran gastronomy. He indicates that this is a cuisine with very much potential and that what is needed is the will to become inspired in order to transform it.

To Recover, To Project, To Impact: Rojo Loft’s Mission

In this way we moved on to discuss the work he and his business partner are doing through Rojo Loft to project a Gastronomical Revolution in Honduras and abroad that will immerse the country and its people further into this field.

Mandy, my business partner, to me is one of the culinary icons in Honduras. She is someone who has worked hard and fought for the cutting edge in culinary are in Honduras. She is the creator of the Festival de Vanguardia Culinaria (Nouvelle/Avant-Garde Cuisine Festival) for which we invite chefs to cook only with native ingredients.

Both have charged each other with the task of recovering, projecting and impacting. They seek to recover recipes, ingredients and technique to project a reinvention of Honduran gastronomy. At the same time they hope to impact Honduran economy in a very positive and unique way by promoting the use of local products coming directly from small-scale producers in Honduras. However, the use of Honduran products is not limited to the fresh ingredients for which Rojo Loft and its culinary courses and other services stand out from the crowd. On location at Rojo Loft, the décor is composed of an approximate 90% of Honduran products, the majority of which have been produced with recycling techniques or repurposing materials in order to transform them into new products.

Furniture at Rojo Loft are products made in Honduras, constructed from recycled rubber from tires.
Furniture at Rojo Loft are products made in Honduras, constructed from recycled rubber from tires. || Photo: V. Arita || Tegucigalpa || April 2014

In its future of Rojo Loft there are expansion projects such as edible botany, a gastronomy center which will cater to everything food and beverage, and alliances with groups like El Zamorano, who has a line of organic products which Rojo Loft will promote through artisanal marketplaces located in different spots around town.

Before we adjourned from our interview, Chef Escalante took the opportunity to comment on a social outreach event in benefit of Fundación Abrigo taking place this upcoming Saturday, April 26 in Colonia Palmira of the capital city in Honduras. The event is the Festival Gastronómico y de Música Mi Calle (Gastro and Music Festival “My Street”). Chef José Escalante invites us to join starting at 6pm with a contribution of Lps. 250 in the street where Rojo Verde y Ajo is located (Avenida República de Argentina).

Vanessa Arita
Vanessa, an enthusiastic bibliophile and graphic design educator, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design and Italian Studies. Her participation with Buen Día Honduras marks her debut into citizen journalism.

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