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Puerto Rican Chow

We welcomed Chow a la Carte regular, Sammy Martinez to ___ his first Chow Club dinner.

Ensalada de Pulpo

Octopus Salad on a Plantain Chip 

Along the coast of Puerto Rico, you’ll find rows of kioskos, family-owned, roadside food stalls catering to beachgoers. Octopus salad is a popular dish at these coastal kiosks. Onions, peppers, olives, lemon juice, olive oil, and red wine vinegar are mixed with octopus in this vibrant salad. 

Gluten-free. Vegan option - Hearts of Palm Salad

Purée de Yucca

Mashed Cassava

We have three common ways to makes Yucca. Grated then fried yucca. Usually as Alcapurrias de Yucca. Fried Yucca Fríes. And last as boiled Yucca. But when my mom made it she would serve herself yucca. But she always would mash the yucca on her plate. Add Olive Oil and salt and pepper. Thus my version of boil Yucca is one extra step. I serve it with a creamy Garlic Sauce and pickled onions 


Meat & Root Vegetable Stew

When families make this stew, they eat it for days because you have to make a massive pot of it to accommodate all the ingredients — chicken, pork, oxtails (beef), cassava, purple yam, carrot, taro root, and yautia (malanga or coco yam). The starch from the root vegetables thickens the stew.

Gluten-free. Vegan — Green Bananas soup 

Ensalada Verde

Mixed Green Salad with Mango Vinaigrette 

Although salads are staples at Puerto Rican parties, they usually don’t get eaten until the next day — since everyone is so focused on the main dishes and desserts. Grilled pineapple and mango vinaigrette add a tropical twist to this salad of lettuce, tomato, and red onion. 

Gluten-free. Vegan.

Tierra y Mar (Surf n Turf)

Pineapple Rum Glazed Roasted Pork and Mojo Grilled Alaskan Cod

While chicken is an everyday food, Puerto Rican parties feature pork, fish, or both. And this is a party! 

The pork is roasted in adobo ( a wet marinade consisting of garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar , and onion powder. Then the pork is seared and glazed with a pineapple rum glaze.

Gluten-free. Vegan: Pineapple Rum-Glazed Tofu

The Alaskan Cod is grilled and topped with an orange mojo sauce. Cuban Mojo is made with a bitter orange juice. Puerto Rican are more garlic and bell peppers. Chef Sammy’s version is with fresh orange juice to add a light citrus flavor to the dish 

Gluten-free. Vegan: Mojo Mushroom 

Plátanos Maduros

No one can turn down these sweet, tender cousins of the banana.  These fried ripe plantains are popular in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

Vegan and Gluten-free.

Deconstructed Spanish

Most savory dishes in PR start with a sofrito — a base of sautéed green peppers, onion, garlic, and cilantro. To really bring at the flavors, Chef Sammy adds the fresh sofrito ingredients after making rice for his “deconstructed Spanish rice.”

Vegan and Gluten-free. 

Cayo del Cielo

Coconut Tiramisu

Translating to “fall from the sky,” this rich dessert is Chef Sammy’s take on a tropical tiramisu. 70% of the rum in the US is from Puerto Rico, so Chef Sammy soaks his ladyfingers in Bacardi coconut rum before layering them with egg custard,  mascarpone cheese, cream cheese, and shredded coconut. Vegan and Gluten-free option: Tembleque (coconut panda cotta)

About Chef Sammy

Both of Sammy’s parents were from Puerto Rico; his dad was from Aguadilla, and his mom from Isabela, both coastal towns in the northwest.

Sammy grew up in East New York, a working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. His family didn’t have much money, but they were always willing to share what they had. It was common knowledge in the neighborhood that if you were hungry, Luz or Wenceslao (Sammy’s parents)would feed you. Sammy’s father, a church pastor, and Luz a homemaker was so generous that if there was any food left on Sammy’s plate when someone stopped by, they would give it to them. As a result, Sammy learned to eat his meat first, lest it be given away. 

Each afternoon, when he arrived home from school, the smell of his mom’s cooking would greet him as he walked down the hall of their apartment building. 

Sammy learned to cook from his mom and, to this day, finds inspiration in her cooking. When he was younger, he volunteered in soup kitchens, and he wanted to work in restaurants. But, needing to support his family, he opted for a more lucrative career as a truck driver. 

Sammy married in 1992. In 2003, in less than a year, they had two of their own children and adopted a 9-year-old nephew. Raising children in notorious East New York wasn’t ideal, so Sammy and his wife decided to move the family to Georgia. 

It had been years since Sammy cooked professionally, but in 2005 he started taking night classes in culinary arts. He’d drive his truck route during the day, and run to class as soon as he was off. 

His first restaurant gig was at Kona Cafe at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, where he learned every role in the kitchen (and, more importantly, how to make the famous Tonga Toast!).

After a year, he was ready to move back to Georgia. He worked three years as a cafeteria manager in Gwinnett County Schools. Open Mama Luz Latin Cuisine. He spent seven years catering for movies and tv productions in the Southeastern States.

With film productions on hold, Chef Sammy works as a Taskforce chef, stepping in during an emergency and hitting the ground running.  He’s also a regular chef at Chow à la carte. His catering company, Mama Luz Latin Cuisine, is a tribute to his culinary inspiration, his mom. 

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