My Mission: Tastes of SF, a pictorial essay

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Cinco de Mayo: an American tradition, complete with BBQ and 3 Carne Asada recipes!

margarita(Note: the following is an excerpt from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, co-authored by this columnist with Adriana Almazan Lahl)

Cinco de Mayo is much more widely celebrated in the United States than in Mexico, where it is really only observed in Puebla. There, it is commemorated with military maneuvers reenacting the Battle of Puebla, a parade, and other festivities. Several theories and stories combine to explain the popularity of the Cinco de Mayo holiday in the United States, one that actually commemorates the Mexican victory against the French on May 5, 1862.

An Unlikely Mexican Victory

Cinco de Mayo is a celebration of a surprising victory, a secret alliance, and a battle that changed history in three countries on two continents. The French invasion of Mexico, known as the French Intervention (1862–1867), occurred concurrently with the American Civil War. With the United States divided and distracted by civil war, Napoleon saw an opportunity to expand French territories in North America, and with the pretext of collecting a debt owed by previous administrations, sent his troops to remove Mexican president Benito Juarez from power and in his place install his cousin Prince Maximilian of Austria as ruler. But, as the French Army marched across the country from the port of Vera Cruz, they first had to pass through the city of Puebla, defended by a ragtag, poorly equipped Mexican Army.
The Mexicans fought back and were victorious against what at the time was the mightiest army in the world, one that had not seen defeat in over fifty years. The 8,000-strong French army attacked the Mexican army of four thousand just outside of Puebla and yet was decisively crushed. This was the last time a European military force invaded the Americas.
The Battle in Mexico That Changed the Outcome of the American Civil War
The Confederacy had appealed to Napoleon III for support, and there was talk of French recognition for the breakaway Southern states. According to some histori¬ans, the French had a plan that involved using Mexico as a base from which they could provide military support to the Confederacy. The Confederacy, having just won several impressive victories over the Union forces, was gaining ground at the very time that French forces were engaged by Mexico in the Battle of Puebla.
However, the defeat at Puebla on May 5 was a major setback for Napoleon, and while France’s forces regrouped and recovered, the Union army was able to gain momentum. Some contend that had the French won at Puebla the outcome of the American Civil War would have been much different, that the French and Confederates together could have taken control of the North American continent, from the Mason-Dixon Line to Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

Tipping the Scales: Mexican-Americans Write Anti-Slavery Laws into California Constitution

What is now the state of California was part of the Republic of Mexico when slavery was outlawed in that country in 1820, decades before it was abolished in the United States. As California prepared to enter the Union, the Latinos who helped write the California Constitution in 1849 were insistent that slavery be kept out of the state. California’s subsequent admission to the Union tipped the balance between free and slave-holding states, thwarting the original Union strategy to create a territory where slavery was legal all across the United States to the Pacific coast. If the French had been victorious on that Cinco de Mayo over 150 years ago, it is very possible that two treacherous allies, Napoleon and the Confederacy, would have been successful in their plans and much of North America to the Guatemalan border would have become slave-holding territories under French rule.

A Holiday Is Born in California

In his book El Cinco de Mayo: An American Tradition, David Hayes-Bautista, whose great-great grandfather fought in the Battle of Puebla, explores the roots of Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the United States and makes a little-known connection between the Civil War and the Battle of Puebla: “Cinco de Mayo does indeed mark a Mexican military victory over the invading French army on May 5, 1862, but it’s celebrated more in the United States because in 1862, U.S. Latinos of Mexican heritage parlayed the victory as a rallying cry that the Union could also win the Civil War.”

Looking at Mexican newspapers in California from 1862, Hayes-Bautista discovered that, for Mexican Americans on the West Coast, the American Civil War and Mexico’s war against the French were “basically look[ed] at [as] one war with two fronts, one against the Confederacy in the east and the other against the French in the south.” Mexicans were squarely against the French goal of returning their country, which had been under democratic rule for more than four decades, to a monarchy. He added,

In California and Oregon, the news [of the victory in Puebla] was interpreted as finally . . . the army of freedom and democracy [had] won a big one against the army of slavery and elitism. And the fact that those two armies had to meet in Mexico was immaterial because they were fighting for the same issues—defending freedom and democracy. Latinos were joining the Union army, Union cavalry, and Union navy.

Mexicans in Los Angeles were closely following the events of the invasion of France, taking place more than 2,000 miles away. If news was slow coming from Mexico, it was further delayed in reaching Los Angeles, as most of the Spanish-language newspapers were published in San Francisco and were delivered by stage¬coach—four days after being printed in the Bay Area. Hayes-Bautista describes this scene: as the stagecoach arrived on May 25 and the bundles of newspapers were thrown down to the anxious crowd, where they were ripped open and passed around. The crowd began to cheer as they read the combat reports published in La Voz de Mejico:

“Retirada de los Franceses. Viva Mejico! Viva la independencia! Vivan los valientes soldados Mejicanos! (The French retreat. Long live Mexico! Long live indepen¬dence! Long live the brave Mexican soldiers!)”

Filled with the excitement of the unlikely victory, Mexicans in Los Angeles decided to hold a local celebration to recognize their heroes and the triumph of freedom and democracy.

A David versus Goliath Victory and the Commercialization of Cinco de Mayo

Since then, the meaning of the holiday has shifted, specifically as Mexican immigrants flooded into the American Southwest following the Mexican Revolution. The connection to the American Civil War became lost as the day came to signify a David versus Goliath story really only known to Mexican immigrants. Later, Cinco de Mayo was used to political advantage to promote U.S.-Mexico unity during World War II and, in the 1960s and 1970s, by the Chicano Power movement. More recently, a sort of fake holiday has been reinvented by beverage companies, who see a big commercial opportunity to penetrate the Latino market. “But if you ask people why they are celebrating, no one knows. And then you get some people who say it shouldn’t be celebrated at all because it’s a foreign holiday—and yet it’s as American a holiday as the Fourth of July,”6 concludes Hayes-Bautista.

Nothing says “BBQ” like a great Carne Asada. Barbeque flavor is determined by the marinade (adobo), the salsa, and the charcoal over which your steak is cooked. For real Mexican wood-smoked flavor, use mesquite or oak charcoal.

63 - Volcanes (2)Grilled Cactus Paddles make a great side for your Cinco de Mayo BBQ (Photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl )

MEXICAN BBQ PARTY MENU
Entrée
Grilled Steaks / Carne Asada
Side / Guarnición
Guacamole*
Cowboy Beans / Frijoles Charros*
Salsa of choice*
Salad 
Classic Baja Caesar Salad / Ensalada Cesar Clásica*
Beverage
Tamarind Water / Agua de Tamarindo*
Dessert
Peanut Marzapan / Mazapanes de Cacahuate*

* recipes available in Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes

Grilled Steaks / Carne Asada I
(Serves 4–6)
¼ cup Worchestershire Sauce
2 tbsp Maggi Seasoning
Juice of 3 lemons
2 sprigs chopped cilantro
2 garlic cloves
¼ piece of white onion
8 oz beer
2 lbs flank steak
Combine all ingredients but the meat in a blender and mix until smooth. Place meat in a glass bowl, pour mixture over the meat, and drench every steak in the sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight. Place steaks on a hot griddle or grill and cook for 3 minutes on each side, depending on how you prefer your meat done.
Grilled Steaks / Carne Asada II

(Serves 4-6)

2 lbs flank steak
½ cup lard
Coarse salt
Mix steaks with lard, covering each steak completely; add coarse salt before you place on grill and cook for 3 minutes each side.

Grilled Steaks / Carne Asada III
Marinate meat with adobo sauce (see recipe below) overnight if possible; if not, for at least 2 hours, salt steaks and cook over hot charcoal for 2-3 minutes per side. _

Basic Adobo
(Makes 1- 1 ½ cups)
6 chiles anchos secos, medium size
3 dry chiles guajillos or New Mexico chiles
2 dry chiles cascabel
1 chile chipotle dry or in adobo sauce
1 tbsp whole allspice
1 tsp coriander
½ tsp cumin sedes
1 tsp Mexican oregano
4 fresh epazote sprigs or 2 dry tsp dry epazote
½ cup apple vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar, piloncillo, or honey
½ white onion
6 garlic cloves
1 cup water

Place all chiles in hot water to rehydrate. Once hydrated and soft, mix them with all ingredients and the garlic cloves. Mix ingredients well in blender until a thick paste forms (this is the adobo); add water if needed to keep the blender moving. The texture should be that of a thick tomato paste. This keeps well in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or frozen for 6 months.

Posted in Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Holiday Traditions and Recipes, Mexican Cultural Events, Recipes, SF Mexican Food, Traditions and Recipes | Leave a comment

Kitchit closes doors- cancels booked events – so what’s next for private chefs?

Rose Plating

Chef Rose Johnson of Private Chefs of the SF Bay prepares to serve

Mat Stark, Kitchit‘s Director of Marketing and Business Development, sent a message out to Kitchit chefs on Facebook earlier this week, as follows;

“Chefs -We are sad to announce that Kitchit will be ceasing operations this Friday, April 29. It is with a heavy-heart but genuine gratitude that we thank all of you for contributing to our unique endeavor. Kitchit has been a labor of love for all those involved. Thanks to chefs like you, we created great meals and great memories for so many diners. You have our enduring respect for sharing your energy, craft and passion for hospitality. You’ve been the cornerstone of Kitchit from day one. From all of us here at Kitchit, thank you for all of your hard work, passion and creativity. It has been a wonderful journey.”

Click on their website and you’ll get a re-direct informing you that the “page isn’t working” and some clients who have already booked events and all of a sudden find themselves without a chef, like a South Bay customer who sent this email to at least a half a dozen chefs, “hi- Kitchit canceled a 30th birthday dinner I’d set up for my girlfriend at our apartment this Sunday, May 1. I’m wondering if you can step in and save this party. I’d love to still have a great meal cooked by someone talented and cool. If you can help, please let me know. It would mean a lot”. Several Bay area chefs report receiving similar emails and calls from frantic hosts.

One of the early entries into the food-meets-tech sector, Kitchit, launched October 1, 2011 as an innovative service with a mission “to transform the way people eat at home, powered by outstanding food and service from chefs”. Bay area private chefs were excited. With per person pricing averaging between $80-$120, here was a great platform to connect them to clients; one that was professional, seemingly understood their talent and allowed them to focus on creating great food while it focused on marketing it. So excited, in fact, that by the time Kitchit folded its Marketplace with a surprise announcement to its chefs August 17, 2015 that it was refocusing “our company’s work exclusively on our Kitchit Tonight service [which allowed] diners choose from seasonal prix-fixe menus” from $39/person– there were over 150 chefs participating in Kitchit Marketplace in the SF Bay area, alone.

But many experienced chefs saw the move as shortsighted and damaging to the industry as a whole; some blaming Kitchit for building its reputation on the backs of real culinary talent, only to turn away from that same talent. One chef put into words what many felt, that the Kitchit Tonight offer, “devalued us, our craft, our worth”. Chef Tiffany Friedman describes her experience with Kitchit this way, “About 4 years ago I was lured in and asked to be a part of a very cool chef community and platform that looked impressive. Things were great for about a year I crushed lots of gigs around the Bay booking jobs through the Kitchit website for a fee. [But} after a while, with Kitchit adjusting the platform numerous times and bringing on more and more chefs, even ones with little to no personal or private chef experience, I become concerned. Suddenly, they were trying to sell a high end service to any and everyone.”

Chef Math

The margins in the restaurant industry are notoriously low. According to a June 2014 Forbes article, “Average industry net profit margins hit… 5.1% in 2013, according to Sageworks’ financial statement analysis of privately held restaurants.” One of the obvious differences in the restaurant business models and that of a private chef of even of a caterer what is known as “restaurant occupancy costs”: rent, taxes and insurance, why typically run 5-6%. While that may seem, on surface, like the difference between healthy profitability and none, it’s just not that simple. (To begin with, taxes don’t disappear and there are still insurance costs to consider.)

To begin with, because of the specific restaurant business model, in achieving the “32 percent of each dollar [an average restaurant spends] on the cost of food and beverages” there is a shelf stable inventory of ingredients that are purchased with volume discounts. Due to an event schedule that is more erratic than that of a restaurant and the lack of pantry space, the average private chef cannot purchase the same way, nor can smaller caterers. In fact, the time lost in repeat trips to purchase ingredients is an added cost, as is travel (mostprivate chefs service an area that is within a 50 mile radius of their base).

On the other hand, the 33 percent an average restaurant spends on salaries and wages seems, at first glance, to be an area where private chefs can look to substantially improve margins; and it is. Costs of labor are, indeed, lower. For this reason, private chefs, working independently, can see health profits even when their customer bases are small, if they price their offers smartly. Kitchit Tonight’s lead offer of $39/person for a 3-course dinner isn’t just not a moneymaker for a private chef; it’s actually money looser.

Consider a dinner for 8 at $100 per person that includes a single server with the chef preparing much of the meal on-site:

  • Cost of food: 25-33% (we can use $25 for purposes of discussion) = $200
  • Cost of labor: 20% or $200
  • Travel, insurance, taxes and other misc. costs 5% or $50
  • Tentative profit = $350

Now, let’s look at the time allocated to produce the meal: Customer service hours (client proposal, menu development, staff procurement): 3 hours + Shopping: 2 hours + Prep: 2 hours + On-site: 5 hours= 12 hours. So that chef is earning $30/hour, if the dinner is $100 per person.

A Promise That Couldn’t Be Filled

It is not unusual for start-ups to change course, and there was no doubt pressure for rapid growth brought after “$7.5 million in funding led by Javelin Venture Partners to make its chefs available to more users in more places” (according to a Dec 9 2014 article in Tech Crunch). But Kitchit Tonight with their promise of “Your own personal chef from just $39 per person” created confusion about in-home or private chefs, a service that is relatively new to many consumers, and blurred the already blurry lines between a cook and a chef. Chef Tiffany explains, “I have been a private and a personal chef for almost 20 years and it was truly lame to see Kitchit come in to a positive flow industry and experiment on it by using and lying to all kinds of established chefs and potential clients. I’m sorry for the misconception that new clients have had to their introduction to the personal in-home chef service world but $40-50 per head price points won’t get us in the door”. And while there certainly are many talented chefs in the Bay area, few, if any, can produce meals at the price points touted by Kitchit, leaving the hosts on whom Kitchit has cancelled with few options.

What’s Next?

Several Kitchit Marketplace chefs, who were left without critical access to customers looking for bespoke cuisine, formed a co-op marketplace which currently hosts six chefs on a website called Private Chefs of the SF Bay (full disclosure: this columnist is one of the chefs on the site), which went live Nov. 1, 2015. Each chef has a presence on the site’s home page, their own dedicated page complete with bio, menus, food photos and contact information. The business model is one in which a small percentage of proceeds from events booked through the site goes back to the co-op to support marketing and site maintenance, with half of those funds being earmarked to support selected Bay Area non-profits operating in the culinary sector.

Will other business models or booking sites emerge in the space? It’s hard to say. Surely, Kitchit’s difficulty in funding a business that founder Brenden Marshall said “has positive unit economics” according to an article a few days ago in the SF Business Times point to the fact that its less than likely that any big players will step up. IfOnly has definitely stepped up its efforts in the Bay area, and even courted some of the former Kitchit Marketplace chefs, but their business model is diverse as are the culinary “Experiences” they offer, ranging from a chef’s shirt hand signed by Michael Chiarello ($250) to an entire category dedicated to Culinary Apprenticeships. In the meanwhile, former Kitchit chefs are being aggressively courted by other sites promising to give them they exposure the need, some from as far away as Canada. One of these is MiumMium, which claims that it is “the largest online marketplace of on-demand chefs, recently reaching 10,000 registered chefs in less than four months after launching and stands as the go-to on-demand chef service in the Bay Area with Kitchit shutting down” in a recent email to chefs in the Bay area. But go on-line to their website and enter a Bay area zip code and a random event date, and what comes up? An impressive listing of chefs from as far away as New Zealand, with the closest one being in San Diego.

Posted in Food News, Private Chef | Leave a comment

Roses on a plate for Mother’s Day: Quail or Poussin in Rose Petal Sauce

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This year, why not avoid the Mother’s Day restaurant rush and spend an amazing evening at home. No looking for parking, fighting the crowds, noisy restaurants, less than perfect table service. Give the gift of preparing an unforgettable meal for mom, or, invite a private chef into her kitchen or yours. Now that that’s settled, what to serve?

Of course, nothing says “Mother’s Day” quite like flowers! (This menu is one I developed for my private chef services, learn more at Una Señorita Gourmet.)

Mother's Day Mine

In this unusual 6-course menu, something floral is infused into every dish

 

69 - Stuffed zucchini flowers

Squash Blossoms / Bellweather Farms Ricotta from menu (photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes by Andrea Lawson Gray and Adriana Almazan Lahl ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

The following recipe is adapted from my book Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, (co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl) and can be prepared using quail or Cornish game hen (also called poussin). Poussin are just small young chickens, typically slaughtered at about four weeks of age, with tender white or very light meat. The same bird, grown to seven to nine weeks of age, is then referred to as a fryer and at twelve weeks of age, a roaster. The age of the bird determines classification. Use poussin in place of a more mature bird in your favorite chicken recipe and watch as your dinner guests are amazed by your culinary prowess.

Not sure about cooking quail: Chef Mariana Caravallo of Private Chefs of the SF Bay shares her “biggest secret. To give quail flavor and tenderness, I process the salt with herbs in a processor and then rub it on the quail skin, a little olive oil and a sweet wine such as Moscato, works as a ‘brine’ but better because it penetrates the meat! Only for couple hours! Then I sauté and finish in the oven!”

Wine country tabletop

Prepare your poussin or quail, then add Rose and Hibiscus Sauce (see below) to the pan, deglazing the pan and mixing sauce with poussin or quail juices. Place warm sauce in the center of a plate, garnish with fresh rose petals, fresh tarragon leaves and roasted pine nuts.

Rose and Hibiscus Sauce

2½ cups water
¼ cup hibiscus flowers (dehydrated)
½ cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1-tablespoon ground cinnamon
5 cups organic rose petals, white or red
¾ cup white wine
¾ cup rose water
Salt and pepper to taste
1-tablespoon butter
2-tablespoons shallots, minced
1-tablespoon flour

First, make hibiscus water by bringing 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan and adding hibiscus flowers, ¼ cup sugar, and a cinnamon stick; simmer for 15 minutes on high. Remove from flame, pass through a sieve, and allow to cool.

Next, wash rose petals, cutting their white tips close to the stem with a sharp knife. Add petals to 1½ cups water and ¼ cup rose water and allow to sit for a few minutes; pass through a sieve and set the petals aside, saving 1 cup of the liquid in a large saucepan to which you will add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon sugar, and ¼ cup white wine. Allow to simmer for 2 minutes; set aside. Once ingredients cool down, add ½ cup of hibiscus and ½ cup rose water in a blender and mix until smooth; season with salt and pepper. In another saucepan, add 1 tablespoon butter and on low heat cook minced shallots for 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon flour, cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly to form a roux. Add rose/hibiscus blended sauce to the roux and bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes more until it thickens; set aside (note- if sauce is not thick enough, in a separate small saucepan prepare additional roux using butter and flour and add to sauce mixture, whisking in the stovetop over a low flame as you add the roux, until desired consistency is achieved).

69 - Stuffed zucchini flowers

Squash Blossoms / Bellweather Farms Ricotta from 6-course Floral Notes Menu above (photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Posted in Holiday Traditions and Recipes, Mother's Day, Recipes | Leave a comment

Discover Mexico’s Comida Cuaresma (Lenten foods): Plantain & Bean Stuffed Chiles

(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this columnist co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl and available on Amazon.)

44 - Fish seller

Fish Seller in Mexico preparing fish wrapped with palm leaves for Lenten market from Celebraciones Mexicanas, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday and the forty-day holy interval ends with Holy Week (Semana Santa). This year, Lent started on February 10th and ends on March 24th. The Spanish word for Lent is Cuaresma, from the word “cuarenta” (forty), as this traditional period of abstinence corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness (the six Sundays are not counted). In Mexico, the custom had been that adults only ate one large meal daily, and meat is still not eaten on Fridays during Lent. Mexican households shop for and prepare what is known as comida cuaresmeña (Lenten foods), many of which are not well known outside of Mexico. Throughout the country (and in some specialty Latino markets in San Francisco’s Mission district), market stands (puestos) offer large dried shrimp for broths (caldos) and small dried shrimp for patties (tortitas), perfect heads of cauliflower for cauliflower fritters (tortitas de coliflor), seasonal romeritos (a spinach-like green, follow this link for recipe), cactus paddles (nopalitos), Seven Seas Soup (Sopa de Siete Mares), as well as thick, dried slices of Mexican bread rolls (bolillos available in San Francisco at these Panaderias or Mexican bakeries) for capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding).

48 - Chile relleno (1)

photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Chiles Stuffed with Beans, Plantain and Cheese

6 chiles anchos or Poblanos
3 cups boiling water
1 lb. refried black beans
5 sweet plantains, ripe, medium sliced, fried
8–9 oz. Panela cheese, thinly sliced
2 cups flour
4 egg whites
Corn or vegetable oil for frying
Tomato Broth  (recipe below)

Dip chiles in hot water for 10 minutes, pat them dry, and open a side slit on each. Devein and seed the chile, being careful not to break the flesh. Depending upon the size of your chiles, tuff with a tablespoon of more of beans, a slice or two of fried plantain, and a slice of cheese. Preheat oil to 350°. Close chile and dredge in flour. Whisk egg whites in a deep bowl until they peak and dip chile with the egg white to cover. Deep-fry in the oil and drain on paper towel or brown paper bag to remove excess oil. Serve warm over Tomato Broth. Note: You can also skip deep-frying the chile and serve it after stuffing it with beans, plantains and cheese.

Tomato Broth (Caldillo)

(makes 4 cups)

2 tbsp. olive oil
1½ pounds tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup medium white onion, coarsely chopped
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ cup minced onion
1 garlic clove, puréed
3 cups chicken stock
1 large sprig of cilantro
1 large bay leaf
Salt to taste

First, prepare a tomato purée by adding tomatoes, the clove of garlic, onion in a blender, and mix very well; pass mixture through a strainer and add to a medium saucepan in which olive oil has been heated. Cook over medium- high heat for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Use purée immediately or within a day or two. (You can also freeze any that is leftover for up to 3 months.)

Now you are ready to make your broth or caldillo: Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, add 1 cup of the tomato purée, and cook for 12–15 minutes on medium high until it changes color and volume is reduced by half. Add chicken stock, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Allow to boil for at least 10 more minutes to season well. Your stock is ready to be used in any recipe. Use it within 48 hours or freeze for up to 3 months

Posted in Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Holiday Traditions and Recipes, Mission Foodie Events, Recipes, Traditions and Recipes | Leave a comment

Next level farm-to-table dining: How to source, cook rabbit, quail and poussin

Posted in Pop-ups, Private Chef, Recipes | Leave a comment

Dining in or out: You be the bartender w/ 7 romantic Valentine’s Day cocktails

romantic cocktailWhether you are dining out or making a romantic dinner at home this Valentine’s Day, no night of romance is complete without the requisite drinks to begin the evening and end the evening. Here are some ingredients you’ll want to include in your love elixir:

“Within the stomach, loins, and in the lung
Praise of hot ginger rightly may be sung.
It quenches thirst, revives, excites the brain
And in old age awakes young love again”

  • Coffee– we all know it as stimulant for both the body and mind, but did you know that the mid-15th century, monks of the Sufi monasteries of Yemen were the first to roast and brew coffee as it is known today. They gave it the name, kawah, or ‘that which excites and causes the spirits to rise. Legend has it that Turkish husbands were legally required to provide their wives with a daily quota with the beverage, upon penalty of divorce.
  • Vanilladerived from an orchid native to Mexico and was originally cultivated by the Totonac people. Its local name, ‘Xanath’, references the myth of Xanat, the youngest daughter of a fertility goddess who had fallen in love with a mortal. Since she was a goddess and he a human, they were unable to marry. In one version of the story, the lovers ran off together but were captured and beheaded. The vanilla orchid grew where their blood touched the earth, and the intoxicating aroma of vanilla embodies the transcendent experience of love.
  • Chiles– The use of chiles as an aphrodisiac was common in both Aztec and Inca cultures, and recorded by early Spanish explorers after contact in the 16th century AD. These are easy to include in cocktails and even in a rich chocolate dessert: smoky chipotles work well with mescal, fresh jalapeños with tequila and a hint of cayenne or milder adobos with chocolate.
  • Honey– the nectar of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty and sexuality from whom ‘aphrodisiacs’ take their name.
  • Chocolate– The famous Aztec emperor, Montezuma was known to drink an ancient beverage called atextli. “Although few written records survive, Francisco Hernandez (1514-1587 AD), a naturalist and court physician to the King of Spain, recorded a recipe for a chocolate-based aphrodisiac … made from a thin paste of cocoa beans and maize, mixed with macaxochitl (Mexican Pepperleaf) and tlilxochitl (Vanilla)” before visit his numerous wives (New York Museum of Sex).
  • Cinnamon – used in many aphrodisiac preparations throughout the world, this Biblical passage in Proverbs 7, Warning Against the Adulteress, cautions against the allure of its scent,”I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come let us take our fill of love till morning.”

Sensual cocktail suggestions: tequila as the liquor of choice for Private Chefs of the SFBay’s mixoligist this Valentine’s Day! Here are several variations on the theme, combining some of the above “love potions”.

(Note: Typical proportions are 1.5 oz. of primary liquor to .5 oz. of secondary liquor and other ingredients (i.e. syrups and fresh juices), other ingredients to taste. Experiment until you get it right sounds like fun, right?!

Habanero Martini– tequila, dry vermouth, habanero (use very sparingly, wear gloves when working with habaneros)

Egg White Tequila Piña– tequila, lime and pineapple juices, simple syrup, foamed egg white topping with a hint of sugar

Double Spice– jalapeño tequila, ginger liqueur, lime juice, agave, chipotle-salt rimmed glass

Spicy Sweet 3-Fruit Piña– tequila, pineapple and orange juices, grendine, jalapeno pepper, pineapple ice cubes

Spicy Tequilito– (like a mojito but made with tequila) tequila, lime juice, mint leaves, simple syrup, jalapeño or use mescal and substitute chipotle and agave for the last 2 ingredients

Vanilla Margarita– tequila, vanilla liqueur, jalapeno, agave, cinnamon stick garnish

Azteca (dessert cocktail) – “Vanilla has a warm, intoxicating aroma, and chocolate and chile peppers have been known as aphrodisiacs forever,” notes bartender Tomas Delos Reyes. Epicurous features Delos Reyes in a video that give you easy, step-by-step instructions for this “based on the beverage the Aztec emperor Montezuma would sip before seducing his harem of women”.

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