In honor of Cinco de Mayo—the day in 1862 when a small Mexican militia defeated a French army attach in the Battle of Puebla—we’re devoting an entire week to celebrating an exciting new generation of Mexican-American chef. A generation who’s not only keeping the food of their ancestors alive but elevating it to new heights. These chefs are young and up-and-coming, classically trained in some of America’s best culinary schools and have worked in some of the world’s most renowned kitchens. But when it came time to open something of their own, they looked to their heritage for inspiration. Today: Omar Flores of Driftwood in Dallas, Texas, who is turning a meat-and-potato town into a destination for fresh, sustainable seafood rich with the flavors unique to Mexican cuisine.
If there’s one town in America that’s decidedly all about meat and potatoes, it’s Dallas, Texas. Home to the state’s oil industry, Dallas’s restaurants reflect the tastes of its residents – think slabs of steak and the usual steakhouse sides of creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes. But there is one chef who stands out among his peers in Dallas: Omar Flores, a Culinary-Institute-of-America-trained chef who has made seafood the protein of choice among the city’s foodies, turning out plate after plate of sustainable fish seasoned with clean, fresh and decidedly Mexican flavors.
“I grew up eating predominantly meat myself,” says Flores, 32. “But once I discovered seafood in culinary school, I fell in love and now, I enjoy bringing that experience of diving into something fresh and new to diners in Dallas. This city has an excess of steakhouses and to serve something different that reflects where I come from is a lot of fun.”
Born to Mexican parents – dad owned a restaurant, mom was a homemaker who always sent Flores off to school with enchiladas for lunch – Flores grew up in El Paso, Texas with an appreciation for the flavors of his heritage. He says he always knew he wanted to become a chef and after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in restaurant management at New Mexico State University, took off for New York City’s Culinary Institute of America. Flores worked at several restaurants in New York City– including David Boulud’s Café Boulud – before heading back to the Lone State to work at Abacus Restaurant in Dallas. He quickly earned a reputation for elegant, composed plates and when he heard that a new restaurant in town – Driftwood – was looking for an executive chef, decided to go for it. One plate of ahi tuna crudo dressed with yuzu, olive oil, English cucumber, 7 spice and churned avocado ice cream later, Flores had the job.
Flores describes his style as contemporary American, and that it is, reflective of the country’s growing Hispanic population and its culinary traditions. He serves steamed littleneck clams in a garlic confit, pickled aji amarillo and white wine broth and plates chargrilled octopus with manzanilla olives and smoked tomato vinaigrette; entrees made special with a decidedly Latin sensibility.
“I make dishes that reflect my style, but that people don’t feel intimidated by,” says Flores, whose cuisine has earned him multiple 4-star ratings from local press, as well as a nomination for “The People’s Best New Chef Award” from Food & Wine magazine. “I want people to feel comfortable about trying Latin-inspired seafood dishes that aren’t the usual fish tacos.”
“I want to push Dallas to try new things – but I want to stay true to who I am by doing so.”
Ahi tuna, avocado ice cream, yuzu olive oil
1 pound Ahi Tuna
2 cups cream
1 cup milk
1 ¼ sugar
6 egg yolks
The juice from two limes
½ cup spinach leaves
1 tbsp white soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp seasoned sushi vinegar
¼ extra virgin olive oil
Togarashi, to taste
Cilantro leaves, to taste
1. In a blender, combine avocado, spinach, lime juice and 1 cup of cream. Puree well and strain. In a mixing bowl whisk together egg yolks, sugar, salt and avocado puree. Scald remaining cream and milk and temper egg-avocado mixture. Strain and cool. Follow recommended ice cream machine instructions.
2. For the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients and whisk until well incorporated.
3. To assemble, slice tuna thinly and arrange on a plate. Season lightly with sea salt, togarashi and place a few cilantro leaves on the tuna. Spoon a small amount of the vinaigrette on the fish and finish off with a small scoop of the ice cream.