WHO: Chris Fernandez, 41, of St. Petersburg, Red Mesa, Red Mesa Cantina chef and co-owner of the Cantina and the upcoming Red Mesa Mercado (expected to open in mid May)
WHAT: Yucca and Plantain Mofongo With Chimayo Chile Scallops and Pickled Red Onions
ABOUT THE RECIPE: Growing up in Oaxaca, Mexico, Fernandez loved cooking from a young age. His mom owned her own restaurant and made special food for every occasion. "Any holiday, anybody's birthday — she would always throw a big party at the house and cook for everybody," he said.
Food is a connection to his family, bridging the distance between them. Whenever he eats the family's traditional dishes, he remembers when his mom used to make it. And every Sunday morning, when he calls his family in Mexico, the conversation often turns to food and new recipes. Although he has lived in the United States for 25 years, he still visits Mexico in the summer to learn more about his culture and get inspiration for his recipes.
His yucca and plantain mofongo recipe is one he adapted from a Puerto Rican dish. The results were spectacular.
"Through the years, I'd try it different ways . . . I decided to make a mofongo, but with ripe plantains instead of green plantains." Other variations he made to the original recipe include the addition of the chimayo chile scallops and the pickled onions he added to give it a sweet and spicy crunch.
"The combination of the flavors is delicious, with the sweetness of the plantains . . . the texture of the yucca (similar to a potato), and then the buttery sauce with the scallops."
TIPS: Chef Fernandez gets his scallops at Sammy's Seafood, 2875 46th Ave. N, St. Petersburg. You can buy the yucca root fresh at supermarkets or specialty produce stands, but to save time, you can also purchase frozen yucca root from Publix. It's already cleaned and ready to cook. For the chimayo chile powder, stop by the Savory Spice Shop at 400 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg.
ON THE SIDE: "Whatever you're in the mood to eat that day." Since this is actually a side dish itself, it goes well with both chicken and steak.
CAN'T COOK WITHOUT: Garlic and chipotle chiles, which are "small, dry jalapenos. When they are fresh, they are jalapenos, and when you smoke them and dry them out, they become chipotles." He also loves cilantro, joking, "How can you say no to cilantro, being Mexican?"
LAGNIAPPE: Chef Fernandez prepared this dish — to rave reviews — for sampling at the Enjoy Arts and Tastes event, which was held in St. Petersburg in November.
Emily Young, Times correspondent
If you have a recipe that you would like featured, or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, email jkee[email protected] with a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Or mail to Taste, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.