Traveling broadened both the mind and palette of Cura chef Dennis Rivera.
Dennis Rivera, regional chef for Cura Hospitality, was always fascinated with the bright and colorful New Year’s Eve fireworks exploding around the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper standing at more than 160 stories, located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. That wonder took him halfway across the world where he broadened his cultural captivation to include the regional cuisine. This sense of wonder and appreciation has informed his cooking and helped educate seniors living in Life Plan communities around the US.
“I wanted to go (to Dubai) for years,” Rivera said. “When I got there, I discovered their food is in another whole world.” He was most impressed with how simple foods were elevated by spices such as turmeric, coriander and cumin and how various vegetables were included in every meal. He was so taken with the country, that since July 2021 has traveled there twice and plans another trip in 2022.
His travels have informed the dishes he is now offering clients. “Baby boomers have more travel experience (than previous generations) and are more open-minded and creative,” he said. “The pot roast with mashed potatoes or ham with pineapple glaze just won’t do anymore.”
For example, after his trip he created a seared quinoa black bean cake served with a warm sweet corn relish. The seniors loved it so much the first time he served it, he had to scramble and make a second batch to complete the meal service.
“Mediterranean and Korean cuisines are also popular with my clients,” Rivera said. He created a Mediterranean sweet potato stew served with coconut cornbread. Again, his clients devoured the dish. The stew incorporates locally popular sweet potatoes and middle eastern additions like chickpeas and turmeric, chili powder and coriander.
Before COVID-19, Rivera and his team set up monthly demonstrations to teach residents about different foods and flavors. “We need to educate people on things like what quinoa tastes like. So, we gave them little samples and talked about it,” he said.
Rivera’s middle eastern education was greatly broadened by his travels. “It opened the door and my mindset to learn how much more of life is out there. It gave me a whole different view.” Two culinary aspects he was surprised to learn was that Arab’s eat the meat and drink milk from camels. He said the milk tasted sweet and was served at room temperature. Their taste for sweets was also different than his own, when he discovered locals eat dates “like we eat chocolate.”