Meet Angela Salamanca-Chef/Owner of Centro Mexican Restaurant and NC’s first Mezcaleria, Gallo Pelon.

1) Where are you originally from and how long have you lived in the Triangle area?

I am from Colombia and have been living in the Raleigh area for 21 years.

2) Do you feel as though this region has become more diverse in the last 10 years?

When I first got here in 1994, I was an oddity, and there were very few Hispanic offerings.

3) With an influx of such a variety of cultures and ethnicity to this area do you think this may pose a threat to Southern traditions?

I think roots run deep, but this new diversity presents a great opportunity for new collaborations and lots of learning from all parties.

4) Is it important to try to protect Southern traditions or do we just roll with the changes without trying to preserve?

I think traditions are important, but change is inevitable. Anything that resonates with the inhabitants of a place will stay and will be preserved, but people bring with them their own traditions and that has to be honored as well.

5) Do you think of food as a form of communications?

Food is the most basic way of communication and of nurturing one another. It is an offering of tradition and generosity.

6) Is there a dish that you’ve made or make that sort of sums up your style or your background? I guess a signature dish perhaps that really gives people a glimpse of your personality.

My go-to is Ajiaco. It’s a traditional potato and chicken soup from the Andes Mountains in Colombia. It is a basic chicken stock that’s thickened with different kinds of potatoes that are grown in the region. It gets its main flavor from guascas, a native herb from the mountains. I like making this dish and sharing it because it is sort of a communal experience. The soup itself is very basic, but it is served with many garnishes; cream, avocado, capers, cilantro, rice. Everyone can add what they like, and it is comforting and accessible.

7) What would you consider your “soul food”? What type of food really speaks to you or comforts you or is a strong food memory that can make you reminisce whenever you enjoy that dish?

Soul food for me is simple. I remember spending lots of time at Grandma’s house. At the time a respected Colombian kitchen always had a pot of white rice ready. She, as many grandmas would, feed us as her way to say, I love you. A quick meal, was rice, plantains with a fried egg on top. She could feed one or ten people like this. I loved it so much.

8) Sometimes people will simplify or strip down a recipe or a menu in order to appeal to a particular clientele. I think this can be a very tricky balance.  Has there ever been a time that you’ve felt this pressure in order to be more marketable?

It is a tricky balance, but I compromise less and less. There is an intention behind everything we create and offer, and when it is changed, it loses something.

9) Is there a particular food, ingredient or dish that you really love that you’ve either tried to put on your menu or are too hesitant to put on your menu because you don’t think that your guests are ready for?

I like “dirty meats”, or the off-cuts. I learned how to make stuffed blood sausages when I was little. I am very open minded when it comes to food. At the restaurant, the craziest thing we have done is beef tongue.

10) Sometimes there’s a learning curve that has to occur in order to slowly gain acceptance with customers are there ways that you’ve tried to subtly educate?

For the most part if you can gain your customers trust, they will try anything you suggest. That is the golden ticket!!!

11) Which artist will always show up on your soundtrack?

It depends on the day and on the mood. I am a hopeless romantic at heart, so I listen to a lot of blues. Lately I have Pandora on La Santa Cecilia station, and I love it!!!

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