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May 30, 2006
Allen Susser: National Mango (Promotion) Board
, 49, is a celebrity chef who owns Chef Allen's, a Aventura, Fla., restaurant. The white-tablecloth eatery serves what Susser calls "palm tree cuisine," which draws heavily from tropical fruits and vegetables.
Susser graduated No. 1 in his class from the restaurant management school at New York City Technical College in 1976. He earned a bachelor's degree in hospitality from Florida International University in 1978.
Since then, he has written three books: "New World Cuisine and Cookery," "The Great Mango Book" and "The Great Citrus Book."
In May, Susser appeared as "Mango Man" in a promotional campaign by the Orlando, Fla.-based National Mango Promotion Board. He conducted in-store mango demonstrations in early May at retail stores in the West, Southwest and Southeast.
What is your favorite dish that uses fresh produce?
Where do I begin? My favorite ? that's so hard to say. I like to combine fresh fish with tropical fruits, so one of my favorite dishes would have to be the Bahamian lobster and crab cake with tropical fruit chutney and vanilla bean burblanc. I think it's got a great array of flavors and techniques, as well as presentation. In the crab cake, I do a Latin sofrito, a vegetable flavor base with tomatoes, onions, garlic and white wine. And I make the Bahamian lobster and crab cake also with fresh basil and scallions. The chutney has mango, papaya, guava and pineapples with some allspice, cinnamon cloves and brown sugar. The vanilla burblanc has vanilla beans, shallots, celery, white wine and black peppercorn.
What do fresh fruits and vegetables add to your cooking?
Fresh fruits and vegetables add flavor, color, bulk, fiber, vitamins and everything. I think it (fresh produce) is an inspiration and a wonderful component of my cooking.
What are your favorite fruits and vegetables and why?
That's like asking (who is) my favorite child. I do like to cook somewhat seasonally and regionally, and I live by a lot of tropical fruits. Mango is probably my No. 1 fruit, although I do like the other tropical fruits : papaya, pineapple and guava. I like the boniato : the Latin American white sweet potato. At the same time, I like plantains, bananas, coconuts, yucca and calabasa (squash).
To me, it's the palate of ingredients that are kind of here in the Miami area. In Miami, with the 90% humidity and 90-degree heat, you sort of look at ingredients differently.
Why did you decide to do the "Mango Man" promotion?
I guess first off, I love mangoes. I love the way they taste. I love how easy they are to cook with, as well as eat fresh and ripe. I think mangoes really take on spices wonderfully, and you can heat them with fires and you can cool them with ice. They can be ripe, and they can be green. There are probably 50 to 60 varieties that I can easily find in Florida.
I actually trade mangoes for dinners here. If people bring me a wheelbarrow of mangoes, I'll cook them a five-course dinner. I get to meet lots of wonderful people who grow mangoes. Some grow professionally, and some just grow in their backyards. They need to share with the rest of Miami, because otherwise they're just sharing with the squirrels.
I get inspired to cook all these dishes with mangoes : mango mojitos, mango martinis, mango shrimp, mango rice marmalades, mango cheesecakes. There are so many mango dishes. It really depends on the individual mango.
What can you say about your promotion with Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers?
I've got a really good relationship with Sunkist. I work with them, teaching chefs how to cook with citrus. I think a lot of chefs don't realize the value of citrus. They see citrus as lemons, limes and oranges. But if they realized how flavorful they can be and the depth of cultures that have used citrus for so many years and the versatility of citrus, they would start to understand how you can be inspired by ingredients. You can take the zest from the essential oils and bring a wonderful crush into the black peppercorn to get a nice orange-black peppercorn. There are so many ways of incorporating flavor without the acidity.
It is also one of those palate cleansers. It seems to have that wonderful balance of bringing up and rounding out the flavors in foods. I think fish, which is one of my favorite foods to cook, does really well with citrus.
Why should people eat fruits and vegetables? Are they eating enough?
They are delicious. There is a variety. I think that it adds texture and color and flavor to almost every dish. If you have one dish that has only one texture and one color, it's just not interesting. I think when you cook, you want to be able to hit all these senses on the palate. You can have (a) little sweet, sour, salt and a little tartness to it.
I think people love to eat out in restaurants because they get a nice variety of vegetables. Very often, we always have a nice variety of fresh produce available. I think people enjoy vegetables also as side dishes : from saratoga fries, to grilled asparagus with manchego cheese to spinach fondue with maytag blue cheese.
What will it take for people to increase their consumption of fresh produce?
I think we're on that mode of increasing awareness, of having diversity on the plate, both culturally and texturally. It makes it more interesting and healthier to eat. I think we're really in the mode of eating healthier.
How would you describe your restaurant?
We change the menu each day, depending on the market. We incorporate a lot of fresh fruits, as well as a worldwide array of vegetables and spices. I'm a big spice fan.
It's a modern restaurant, and the kitchen is enclosed in glass. You can see the kitchen, but you don't have to hear all the clatter.
We have modern, handmade chairs with lots of art on the wall. There are only 90 seats, so to me, it's the perfect chef's restaurant. It's very hands-on, with creative cuisine and service. I like to go out into the dining room and get to know the guests. I don't cook to my ego. I listen to them and cook what they want, but I am able to present a wonderful, exciting and delicious dish.
How would you describe the palm tree cuisine served at your restaurant?
I think palm tree cuisine is sort of where I get all my inspiration from all the cultures that live under the palm trees. I find that all cultures share similar ingredients, but where they really differ is in their spice boxes.
You can take a piece of shrimp and make Caribbean shrimp, or stir-fry it with sesame and soy to make Asian shrimp or use lemon and pine nuts to make Mediterranean shrimp.
For your dishes that use fresh produce, from where do you prefer to source?
I think in general, I like to be as close as possible to where we are (Florida). After that, I think it really can expand any which way. We get produce in from California, Ohio, upstate New York and from South America and Central America.
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