As the chefs competing in Smeeks and Chow Bella's fourth annual Caramelpalooza -- coming 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, at UNION -- get out the candy thermometers, we've got our pens ready to introduce you to the faces behind the caramel.
Minerva Orduño Rincón is a chef who knows how to keep it real. The former FnB line cook turned Upward Projects and Chow Bella contributor has gotten much praise from her line of Mexican crafted products, Muñeca Mexicana.
The handmade brand of specialty goods such as Mole Poblano, Spiced Hot Cocoa Mix, and Coyotas captures the authentic flavors of Mexican food that Minerva grew up eating but found wanting in Phoenix.
Although the first-time Caramelpalooza chef claims she's not a candymaker, her Goat's Milk Caramel begs to differ. Derived from the traditional methods used in Celaya, Mexico, this all-natural sauce provides a rich and creamy supplement to pastries, ice cream -- you name it. So you can say what you will about your candy-making skills, Mrs. Orduño Rincón, but we think the handcrafted caramel will speak for itself.
Caramel should never be: I'm not really a candy maker -- it's something that I ended up doing by accident -- so I'm going with the professionals on this, and quoting David Lebovitz, "Do not make caramel naked." I've never attempted to do so, but it just sounds like really good advice. I learned to cook from . . . Everyone I've ever watched cook -- my parents, the people I have worked with, street vendors, etc. I'll watch people cooking like a hawk, even if it looks like I'm staring out into space and in my own little world.
I can't live without: I have a definitive list of my favorite things: books, buildings, beer, and dogs. Well, and men also. Take any of those away and I'm not happy.
Favorite Mexican candy: Mangoes don't count as candy, do they? Spicy tamarind paste. I would eat it every day if I could.
It's hard to find authentic ____ in Phoenix: I so hate to say this -- I really really do -- but it is hard to find authentic Mexican food. Flavors have been watered down so much to make them more palatable to the American market. I love that Mexican ingredients and foods have been so widely adopted as to be homogenized, but I would love to see Mexican food allowed to keep some of its authenticity and be respected for it the way that you see a lot of Asian cuisines get respect.
In a perfect world . . . I would get rid of yellow lemons. I like them well enough, but I'm sorry, I will never like yellow lemons as much as lemons -- what I still call lemons, or um, limes. When I'm not making Mexican sweets, I'm . . . Cooking everything else. Like I said, I'm not a candy maker full time, so mostly I'm busy making mole poblano. Soooo much mole.
Hidden talent: I spin yarn. I rarely do it, but it's such an incredibly meditative thing to do. I take big bundles of fluffy wool, comb it, bunch it up in my hand, start pedaling with one foot, and with both hands draw out a long strand of twisted wool until I fill the bobbin. I sometimes even feel like I'm sleeping when I do this.
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I got the title Muñeca Mexicana from . . . My dad has called my sister and I "muñeca," meaning "doll" (it also means "wrists," but Spanish word definition is all about the context) since we were kids, and continues to do so to this day. There's little dolls in colorful traditional folk dresses and long black braided hair sold throughout Mexico. It used to drive my sister and I nuts that he called us that when we were teenagers. Now that we are both in our 30s, we find it very cute.
One chef I admire is . . . Oh, God, I do not like this question. I'm not a huge TV chef person, but I love the show New Scandinavian Cooking, and in particular the Norwegian seasons, hosted by Andreas Viestad. He's not actually a trained chef and readily says so himself, but someone that has a background in history, started out as a food columnist, and even with involvement in molecular gastronomy, focuses a lot traditional foods and cooking methods. I remember there was one episode where he was downhill skiing while carrying a bucket full of fermented fish he had just pulled out from the frozen ground. I think he's a wonderful example of how people in the culinary industry can both look forward toward the modern and innovative, and back to traditions and old methods. A spice that best describes my personality: I want to pick between fennel seed and allspice but, honestly, I just can't.
I like my coffee . . . To smack me across the face. French press, a bit of honey, maybe a splash of heavy cream.