When you think of celebrity chefs, big cities like New York, San Francisco, Paris or Monte Carlo come to mind. Fair enough. But little San Jaun, Puerto Rico tucked down there in the Caribbean between the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Island? Por que no?! Say Hola to Wilo Benet whose been putting muscle behind the meaning of Puerto Rican cuisine for over two decades, and is likely flavoring a plate, bookshelf, and TV channel near you.
Benet is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of American and is the chef-owner of Pikayo in San Juan, celebrating its 23rd anniversary this year, a restaurant that set the bar for fine dining in Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. Chef Benet defines his culinary style as 'contemporary global,' fusing Puerto Rico’s fresh local ingredients with Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Italian and classical French influences. The result is a vibrant Pantone palette of colors and flavors that are a reflection of the island itself.
To Spanish speaking audiences, Benet is most known as the star of “Sabores de Ensueno con Wilo Benet,” a show based on recipes of his best-selling first book, “Puerto Rico True Flavors,” published in 2007, and offering readers more than 100 recipes that pull from his mother and grandmother's kitchen as well as Puerto Rican street food. Expect things like ham with pineapple sauce, picadillos, and piononos, a meat pie of ripe plantains and ground beef picadillo, a staple roadside treat on the island. With roughly 11 million viewers from Mexico to Argentina, including the United States, Benet has proven is celebrity chef chops, while shining a light on the island’s enchanting flavors in the process. He’s appeared in other high rated TV shows too, such as “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” “Top Chef” as well as in “Martha Stewart Weddings,” amongst many others.
These days he is working on his third book, which will be about food photography, and chatting with Fluent in Fabulous (por que no?), about his secret food fetish, which happens to be the same as mine, and about where he'd send you on the island for some down to earth Puerto Rican food (I'm headed there in December).
Thanks for reading and sharing
The Foodie 5
1. What is your favorite food memory from childhood?
My Mom’s Potato and Beef "Rellenos"
2. You’re moving to a new kitchen in 5-minutes and can only take one gadget along with you. What do you grab and why?
An inverted blender, because of its versatility.
3. No one’s looking---What is your secret food fetish?
Salt & Vinegar Potato Chips
4. Someone is visiting your hometown of San Juan, Puerto Rico for the first time. Where do you send him for dinner and what do you recommend he eat?
I would send him to Pescaderia Don Candi in nearby Fajardo for fried fish, tostones (green plantain fritters), and conch salad arepas. It’s bare, raw, inexpensive and authentic to the bone.
5. Congratulations, you have carte blanche to dine in any city or country in the world! Where would you go and why?
New York City because of the extreme diversity.
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