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San Antonio flows with flavor

Courtesy San Antonio CVB

A Ceviche Tutorial
The next day, I donned an apron, toque and rubber gloves for an intense training session at the CIA. The “mission” was South American ceviche.

In San Antonio, CIA stands for the Culinary Institute of America. In addition to its campuses in Hyde Park, New York, and Napa Valley, California, this highly regarded culinary school runs an outpost in San Antonio where students and professors specialize in food techniques from Central and South America.

In addition to training future chefs, the CIA offers a number of continuing education courses that are available to community members, and visiting groups can arrange to take a class as well.
“We have classes just about every Saturday,” said CIA sales and marketing coordinator Heather Gassaway. “It can be a training demonstration or a hands-on activity.”

I joined a group of about a dozen other food enthusiasts. Our instructor, Chef Elizabeth Johnson-Kossick, spent a few minutes introducing us to the concept of ceviche — fresh fish flash-cured in lime juice — and teaching us about its different varieties in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. She also gave us an introduction to some of the ingredients we would be using, such as striped bass, shrimp, Mexican limes and plantains.

Our group split up into four smaller teams to prepare a variety of ceviches in the well-outfitted instructional kitchen. My team was tasked with making two ceviches: an Ecuadorian-style shrimp ceviche and a Colombian-style ceviche with striped bass and coconut milk. Johnson-Kossick guided us through the steps of mashing garlic cloves into paste, cutting cubes of fish and combining the multitude of ingredients to taste.

After an hour or so of hard work, the teams reconvened to sample all of the different ceviches we had made. Each variety brought its own blend of flavors and textures, but they were all cool, delicious and remarkably fresh, and everyone enjoyed tasting the fruits of our labor.

A Foodie’s Fiesta
Ceviche was just the tip of the culinary iceberg during my stay in San Antonio. My visit happened to coincide with Culinaria, a four-day citywide food festival that highlights the best food from around the city. I made sure to take advantage of the various Culinaria events that were going on while I was in town.

San Antonio is renowned for great food from traditional Mexican dishes and street food to barbecue, fine dining and haute cuisine. The San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau’s executive director, Casandra Matej, put it well when we spoke at a reception: “San Antonio’s cuisine is a perfect blend of family tradition, innovation and a zap of passion.”

The events of Culinaria run the gamut of San Antonio food styles, giving visitors opportunities to experience them all in settings both casual and formal.

Throughout the festival, several restaurants host special lunches and dinners for ticketholders. I attended a couple of these meals, where I enjoyed high-concept courses designed to highlight the innovation and creativity of local chefs.

The festival also features a number of large events that make great stops for groups. The opening night kicks off with a food truck competition that brings together San Antonio’s best food-truck operators to give attendees a taste of Latin, Asian and New American street food. The next night, dozens of the city’s foremost Mexican chefs gather at the Best of Mexico event to hand out samples of their best dishes to a lively crowd.

The crowning jewel of Culinaria, though, is the Grand Tasting, a gala event that features high-end dishes served by restaurants of every imaginable variety. I savored tastes of fresh seafood, filet mignon, spicy Asian barbecue and homemade ice cream, flash-frozen on the spot with a blast of liquid nitrogen.

The Grand Tasting allowed me to eat my way around San Antonio all in one night. In this city that brims with so many cultures and flavors, I may have managed to experience every one.

San Antonio 
Convention and 
Visitors Bureau

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.