Amara Enciso a “cook to the stars” by carlos matÍAS
Amara Enciso is the American chef of Hispanic origin who, at 31 years old and only the last seven years established in Juneau, has conquered the most demanding palates in America and Europe. Last summer, Amara Enciso represented Alaska at the prestigious Great American Seafood Cook-Off 2022, in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Amara Enciso is the youngest chef among those rated as top chefs in the United States. She is American by birth (San Diego, California) and Hispanic by family origin. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she fell in love with an American helicopter pilot and, together, they moved to Alaska, to Juneau, where they settled seven years ago.
There she started cooking, first at the luxurious The Jorgenson House and then, little by little, for herself. They were difficult beginnings, of alternating different jobs at the same time and sleeping only two or three hours a day (sometimes, in her car), beginnings faced with the strong determination to pursue her dream. And she succeeded.
In record time, Amara has not only won the heart of her helicopter pilot, a true Cupid’s “crush,” but also the most demanding and famous palates in America and Europe, from the television “superstar” Oprah Winfrey; the Scottish presenter of cooking shows in the United Kingdom, Gordon Ramsay (owner of several restaurants that have accumulated 17 Michelin stars, of which he currently holds seven); fellow TV personality Guy Fieri (Emmy Award winner and host of several TV series on the Food Network); Panamanian soccer player Eric Davis, star of the Slovak Super League; and award-winning luxury interior designer Shayla Copas, to name just a few.
Artists from Europe and America and other celebrities come to her restaurant, Brava Food, and the “word-of-mouth” among celebrities and personalities has worked to the point that some have taken a plane from somewhere in Europe, bound for Juneau, just to meet Amara and her “magic cooking hands.” She has also conquered the palates of politicians. In Juneau, the governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy, is a regular customer, and he also hires Amara to cook at his mansion for official receptions and parties. One of those events was a meeting of Latin American gastronomic experts who wanted to exchange knowledge and at the same time learn about the delights of Alaskan cuisine, especially salmon.
It was Dunleavy’s lieutenant governor, Kevin Meyer, who nominated Amara to represent the state of Alaska at the prestigious Great American Seafood Cook-Off 2022, which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, last July. The event brought together the top fifty chefs in the country, one from each of the 50 states. Amara was one of the thirteen top chef specialists vying for the title of “Best Seafood Chef in the United States.”
“I didn’t win the award,” Amara Enciso tells Sol de Medianoche, “but just being there with the best chefs from all over the country is a prize in itself.” And what is the “recipe of your life?” we ask her. “I’ll explain how to cook a dream,” Amara replies: “As ingredients, a good dose of love for cooking; many grams of respect for the seafood and fish I cook; a large portion of confidence in myself and self-assurance in what I do; a lot of faith, a lot of humility, a lot of passion, a lot of joy; some spices that my mom taught me to use and that give it that special homemade and Mexican ‘touch’, but not excessively...”
“We mix everything. We whisk and pour into our dish, which we will put in the oven, along with the seafood or fish from Pelican, in Hoonah-Angoon, from where they bring me supplies three times a week. Believe me: it’s the best fish and it’s the best seafood in the world...” “We put in a little patience, just enough to let our dream get cooked and browned until it’s just right. The key is to know how to wait. Then, we take it out and plate it. It is also a good idea to add a little salt to life. And ‘voilà!’: taste it and enjoy it.” Returning to the passage of our conversation, in which she says that “I didn’t win the prize, but just being there with the best chefs in the country is a prize in itself,” we can only conclude that Amara is wrong: she is the prize.
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