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K-State Today

February 29, 2012

Workshop features authentic Mexican flavors

Submitted by Alison Rogers

It may have been 40 degrees outside Derby Dining Center, but the atmosphere inside was muy caliente at the eighth annual department of hospitality management and dietetics' Culinary Enhancement Workshop.

Taji Marie, executive chef and co-owner of the Los Angeles-based culinary events company Simple Gourmet was on hand to lead the 2012 workshop, "Authentic Flavors From the Regions of Mexico." Marie introduced attendees to the surprising and complex south-of-the-border flavors that can be achieved with basic ingredients and uncomplicated cooking techniques. Through hands-on instruction and a variety of demonstrations, Marie set out to show the group that Mexican food is about much more than tacos and burritos.

"I came to K-State to talk about Mexican food in a nonstereotypical way — to direct people to the more traditional flavors and unique preparations they may not have encountered at the local restaurant," Marie said. "Many are surprised to learn that you don't have to have advanced cooking skills or obscure ingredients to achieve a more traditional Mexican dish."

Marie based her workshop on the regional variations found in Mexican cuisine, comparing the differences to those here in the United States.

"Mexico is a big country, similar to the United States in that every region has its unique flavors," she said. "Here we have Cajun in the Southeast, barbeque in the Midwest, seafood in New England, and so on."

Marie prepared a green mole dish to highlight influences from central Mexico, fish tacos with a Baja California flair, and other items that featured flavors from the Pacific Coast, the Gulf of Mexico states and the Yucatan Peninsula.

The two-day annual workshop series was created in 2005 by Melissa Schrader, housing and dining services dietitian and instructor of hospitality management and dietetics, to provide students with a broader perspective of the world. This year's event gave students, food service professionals and general food enthusiasts a chance to experience Mexican food that hadn't been altered by Northern preferences.

"The annual Culinary Enhancement Workshop gives students opportunities to learn about things they wouldn’t otherwise experience in their classes or travels," Schrader said. "It gives dietetics students valuable food-preparation experience, and the hospitality management students gain an understanding of other cultures that provides them with the tools they will need to better accommodate individuals from across the globe."