Listen to my conversation about Taranta with Morning Edition host Bob Seay on WGBH 89.7 FM
I came to the North End for the food. The delicious cheeses, olives, and meats at the salumerias. The divine pastries at the long-standing Italian bakeries. The frothy cappuccinos and decadent gelatos at the neighborhood cafes. However, I unexpectedly left the North End that day with a new mantra: Be fearless. This is what I took away from my visit with Chef José Duarte at Taranta.
Here is a chef, born in Peru, raised in an Italian neighborhood in Venezuela, who opened a restaurant in the North End that serves a marriage of Southern Italian and Peruvian cuisine. When we went to shoot the recipes for this episode, Chef José went rogue. We had a list of recipes, which included the lobster causa (a fabulous mixture of Peruvian yellow potatoes, avocados, tomatoes and lobster) and the guavannoli (a classic cannoli with ricotta, strega and guava mixed in), but then he decided at the last minute to experiment with some paiche, a giant pre-historic fish from the Amazon. This was a first for Neighborhood Kitchens. We just rolled the camera without a tried and true recipe as our guide. Chef José said, “Let's see if we can make a sausage out of the fish. It has so much elasticity!” I replied, “So don't try this at home?” To which he replied, “Try everything at home!”
Chef José's passion for food and experimentation in the kitchen is infectious. He truly is a culinary innovator. Chef José has practically created his own language with dishes such as guavannoli and lucumisu. He calls it, “speaking Taranta.” Chef José's decision to combine Southern Italian and Peruvian cuisine is bold, but its execution is balanced. There are some ingredients that are very strong. For example, the spicy aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian pepper) and rocoto pepper, but they are used sparingly. Those ingredients don't overwhelm the dish, but rather add another dimension to the overall taste. He also uses pallares, or large Peruvian white lima beans, in place of Italian cannellini beans. They don't taste very different, but the pallares are a bit more creamy. Chef José also makes gnocchi with cassava root and Peruvian tacu tacu with arborio rice. Delicious! Sure, it's untraditional, but if it's this good, why not?
By the way, add environmentalist to Chef José's list of occupations. Taranta is the only certified green restaurant in the North End. He has taken great measures to use less energy and water and to recycle and compost 99% of the restaurant's waste. Only 1% of the trash from Taranta makes it to the landfill! On top of that, the business's truck runs on used cooking oil from Taranta and the restaurant next door. He says that many of the other local restaurateurs think that he is crazy, but Chef José says it just makes sense, as he saves money through these environmental changes.
Chef José's mission with Taranta: be different by using passion and conviction as a guide and serve what tastes amazing. Notice that I didn't say “what tastes good.” It has to be amazing and full of life, just like Chef José.
Watch Neighborhood Kitchens online to learn more about Taranta in the North End.
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