all photos by Jordan Hefler
The Dominican Republic is a special place to me. I've been able to travel there four times now, including twice in 2017. I've seen, or at least traveled through, the majority of the country, and I've fallen in love with the people, the food and the culture. I could go back there time and time again.
On my first trip in 2013, I had one of the most memorable meals of my life. Upon my returns to the country, those expectations have only been matched... other than in Punta Cana, where all-inclusive resort food does not live up to any sort of authenticity standards.
|Presidente, the ubiquitous beer of the Dominican Republic|
Last year I launched Jay D's Single Origin Coffee, a project that sources coffee beans directly from Dominican coffee farmers then roasts the green coffee with Baton Rouge's Cafeciteaux Coffee Roasters. I spoke about how it all came together at TEDxLSU.
After a trip to the coffee farms in May and then another culinary media trip in August to Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata, I felt like it would be a great time to bring some of my Dominican bite and booze experiences back to Baton Rouge.
We've been organizing a series of dinners at Red Stick Spice Company on Jefferson Highway, so putting together a Dinner Dominicana at Red Stick just made sense!
|Goat empanadas with coconut habanero hot sauce|
We started the meal with an appetizer while guests were able to walk around the store and browse the selection of spices, oils, vinegar, teas and local products. Our goat empanadas were formed into yucca flour dough and fried to crispy. They were served with a coconut habanero hot sauce. This dish reminded me of empanadas available from street vendors in Santo Domingo.
|Anne Milneck from Red Stick Spice speaks to the crowd at Dinner Domicana|
As the group of hungry diners took their seats on the classroom side of Red Stick Spice, Anne Milneck, the store's owner, welcomed everyone. She gave them each packet of Adobo seasoning, commonly used in Latin American cooking, as party favors to take home. I also greeted the guests before the second course arrived, a Dominican beef and root vegetable stew called sancocho.
|Our second course was paired with a Santo Libre made with Brugal Extra Viejo Dominican Rum and Sprite|
Back when Blair and I were in the Dominican Republic we brought back a couple bottles of Brugal Extra Viejo, one of my favorite Dominican rums, so that we could use it for a dinner like this. We used the tasty sugarcane elixir in a batch of Santo Libres, a simple beverage of rum and lemon-lime soda. Used to rum and Coke? Next time try Sprite or 7up!
|Jay Ducote serving up the Sancocho at Red Stick Spice Company|
The Sancocho is a thick and hearty stew of beef and root vegetables like sweet potato and yucca. It could be equated to the Dominican (and Puerto Rican) version of gumbo, and sometimes even served with rice, but it uses the starches from the root vegetables instead of a roux as the thickener. I had an absolutely fantastic sancocho from Chef Martin Omar at Hodelpa Nicolas de Ovando in Santo Domingo. All I could do was try to do that stew justice.
|Pollo Guisado, Rice, Beans, Avocado, Fried Plantains|
The main course of the evening was my play at the most quintessential dish in all of the Dominican Republic: pollo guisado. This is also the dish in my previously aforementioned memorable meal post. Chicken, which can be found free-ranging all over the country, is stewed in a bath of tomato and garlic then served with rice, beans and fried plantains. It is a nurturing, comfort, home-cooked kind of a meal that has slight variations anywhere and everywhere you eat it. No two cooks make it the same, and you can have great versions and some very mediocre versions, but all in all, it's the lifeblood of the nation.
|Coconut Cake with Jay D's Single Origin Coffee|
For dessert, we took a trip to the more tropical side of Caribbean cuisine. Our Gov't Taco Majority Whip, Therese Schneider, took the lead on making a rum-infused coconut cake that we served with a cup of Jay D's Single Origin Coffee. I wanted the opportunity to talk about my coffee and the people in the Dominican Republic who grow the beans. The coffee, as well as all of my products, can be found at jayducote.com/shop.
Now I just need to figure out when I'll be able to make a return trip to the Dominican Republic. I'm sure it won't be long!