The Gourmet Latino Festival, which began this past weekend, consists of several seminar and special events, most hosted at the Astor Center, as well as at participating restaurants.  The purpose of the festival is to take people on a journey of Latino cuisine and spirits, through tastes, sips, and power-point presentations. 

I attended Feel the Spirit of Brazil & Crank up the heat with Brazilian food and cocktails!  This event was a tasting seminar with cookbook author Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, North American Cachaça Expert Olie Berlic, Founder & CEO of Leblon Steven Luttmann, and Master Distiller Vincent Bastos Ribeiro.  The goal of the seminar was to teach guests about Cachaça, a national spirit in Brazil, which is used in Brazil’s national drink – the deliciously sweet Capirinha, one of my favorite cocktails.  To enhance the flavors of the drink, the seminar also intended to teach guests about great Brazilian foods that pair with Cachaça. 

This seminar, although it suffered from disorganization in that it started 30 minutes late and not enough chairs were set up, the presenters met their goal, by serving up delicious drinks, providing a Pure Cachaça Tasting, and serving powerfully flavorful snacks. 

The event started with the history of Brazilian Cuisine and Cachaça.  We quickly learned that there is a uniqueness to Brazilian cuisine and that it should not simply be lumped together with Latin American food.  As Chef Leticia said “Food is really important in enjoying life” and we can enjoy that food even more if we understand its roots and original characteristics.  As for Cachaça, it is commonly considered a Rum when in reality, Cachaça is its own spirit!  Steve Luttmann, founder & CEO of Leblon, a brand of Cachaça, encouraged us to participate in a campaign to recognize Cachaça’s individuality. 

This seminar boasted three separate cocktails, as well as four tastings of Pure Cachaça, quite a bit of alcohol for a Sunday afternoon (but I am not complaining).  We tried the Traditional Capirinha, which was both sweet and strong.  Next, we sampled the Spiced Batida de Maracuja, another Cachaça drink of course, that was orange and more powerful than the Capirinha.  We also tasted four Cachaça brands, all slightly different, and surprisingly drinkable on their own.

Of course, food was a lovely supplement to these sweet and strong concoctions.  The Pao de Queijo, which looked like a very mini version of a roll, was actually cheesy bread that melted in your mouth immediately, and made you want to find the waiter to ask for another.  The Croquette de Carne was fried meatballs, with a different level of spice with each bite.  And the Yucca Sticks, resembled a crunchy breadstick, but was seasoned with a nice amount of zest. 

When the seminar ended, I learned that I am not alone in my love of Capirinha, and that it is possible I have not really experienced authentic Brazilian food.  But in the city that never sleeps, I am sure I can find a great Brazilian restaurant that I can now appreciate!

– Kerry Anne Hoffman