Introducing “Improv Kitchen.” In this new series, chef and host Nyesha Arrington will tackle a series of culinary challenges testing her creativity and resourcefulness in the kitchen. From unboxing mystery recipes to missions from fellow chefs and producers, chef Arrington will learn new techniques, problem solve, and utilize her own expertise to create dishes using what she has on hand.
On the premiere episode, chef Arrington receives a challenge from celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez via Zoom. “When you want to challenge another chef, you have to go back to the roots,” says chef Sánchez. “You have to choose an iconic dish that literally creates arguments at the dinner table.” And with that, chef Sánchez asks her to use her classic French cooking skills to put her own spin on a classic Mexican dish, carnitas from scratch — tortillas and all — and to incorporate Fanta into the dish.
“I’ve eaten a lot of tortillas, but I can’t say I’ve made a lot,” responds chef Arrington, but the challenge is on. Instead of pork shoulder, she subs in pork ribs, since that’s what’s in her fridge. First she creates a dry rub that she calls “Latin meets Mexican,” using turmeric, ground cumin, black pepper, onion powder, cinnamon, cumin, paprika, and dried oregano. Later, she’ll braise some with Fanta, allowing the corn syrup to help caramelize the ribs, and confit the rest with oranges and other aromatics.
“That’s what I love about collaborations,” says Arrington. “You take these classic techniques and flavors that were in [chef Sánchez’s] family for generations, and then kind of take my global influences and create an amazing bite that is so authentic to that time. It’s a time stamp.”
While the meat rests, chef Arrington tries her hand at making both flour and corn tortillas. The corn tortillas take only one try and turn out the way she had hoped. But for the flour ones, chef Nyesha tries to sub bacon fat for lard, which ends up making the tortillas fall apart. After four different attempts, she figures out the right combination of flours and butter to get the correct consistency.
In the end, chef Arrington ends up with two types of carnitas tacos she’s extremely pleased with. “The creative process of cooking is about paying homage to tradition, but then taking those elements and adapting them to what you have,” she says. “This is a bite I will never forget.”