Victor Albisu: Ready to make the food dance

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Entertainment,Food and Drink,Alexandra Greeley

Chef Victor Albisu is about to enter a new phase of his culinary life: chef/owner of not one, but two distinctive restaurants.

First up, and more take-out than sit-down, is Taco Bamba. A taqueria located in Falls Church, Taco Bamba promises an exciting and unconventional assortment of these portable goodies. And his second venture: an upscale South American grill called Del Campo, slated to open in early 2013 in PS 7's former location in D.C.

But why tacos? Yes, he admits, Taco Bamba is something of a departure, but it will be lighthearted and all about the food, he promises. "No, tacos are not party of my history," says Albisu, whose father is from Cuba and his mother from Peru. "But I love all Latino food ... life is a series of challenges so I wanted to take on something different ... I am going to try to elevate what's there and make the taco modern, fun. ... We will be on the cutting edge, the forefront of tacos."

If you go
Taco Bamba
Where: 2190 Pimmit Drive, Falls Church
Info: 703-639-0505
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 9: 30 p.m. daily
Note: Taco Bamba is projected to open the first week in February

Hailing from a family with intimate ties to the food world -- one grandfather was a baker, two aunts own Cuban restaurants in Miami, and his mother runs a Latino market-butcher shop that is located next door to her son's new taco place -- it's not surprising that Albisu cooks. "My heritage has shaped my love for food," he said.

But for Albisu, the real culinary inspiration has come from his grandfather, who taught the very young man how to make empanadas. "I had to learn his techniques," Albisu said. "It wasn't about the ingredients, but about the 'dance' of cooking," adding that his grandfather was the best natural cook he has ever known. "I do this as a tribute to him, as much as I love cooking."

Despite his childhood days in the kitchen and helping his mother in her Falls Church market, Albisu did not seem destined to cook. Instead, he graduated from George Mason University and headed to work for an international aid organization. Bored with office work, Albisu moved to France to study cooking at Le Cordon Bleu.

With diplomas in cuisine, pastry and wine, he returned to Washington, and began working for a series of upscale restaurants, including 701 Restaurant, the Tabard Inn, Marcel's and Ceiba. "I wanted to see everything," he said. "I wanted to learn about D.C. and modern American cooking."

With that mission accomplished, Albisu is setting off to conquer a rather different world: owning his own restaurants. No surprise that his family is excited about this challenge. "They believe in me," he says.

Q&A

What is your comfort food?

A traditional plate of Cuban food, including roast pork, black beans, rice, and yuca or a South American asado at my house.

What's in your fridge?

Gordy's pickles, seasonal fruits like Concord grapes, and we always have leftovers such as stews.

Who is your favorite chef?

My grandfather, with his natural ability to cook and his love for every meal. And my mom, she is the same way.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

Graffiato, the Source, but the place I love is Little Serow. And, Ichiban Sushi.

Which is your signature dish?

I have a signature style and I don't believe in signature dishes because my cooking is always evolving. It is always driven by my heritage with a vibrance in every flavor in every dish.

Recipe

Spicy 'Shroom-Chipotle Tacos with Sweet Potato Crema

Serves 8

Mexican crema is a distinct product sold in Latino markets.

1 roasted sweet potato, cooled

1/2 cup Mexican crema

Salt and pepper to taste plus, 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound portobello mushrooms

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons chipotle puree from 1 small can pureed chipotles in adobo

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1 cup grated cotija cheese, plus extra for garnish

8 soft corn tortillas

Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds, grilled corn and sliced heart of palm for garnish

Allow the sweet potato to cool, scoop it out of its skin, and put into a blender. Season with salt and pepper and add Mexican-style crema, puree until smooth and reserve.

Remove the mushroom stems, chop them and reserve. If any of the mushrooms are large, cut the caps into 1/4-inch thick cubes and reserve.

Heat a cast-iron skillet for about 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in the skillet and add half of the mushrooms. Saute the mushrooms until golden brown and caramelized, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate, and repeat with the remaining mushrooms and butter; add the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Turn off the heat and return the first batch of mushrooms to the pan. Add the chipotle puree and cilantro, and stir to combine. Sprinkle on the cheese and gently stir to melt the cheese.

To serve, lay the tortillas side-by-side, open face and overlapping on a platter. Add 1 tablespoon of sweet potato puree to each shell, divide the filling equally between the tortillas, and garnish with corn, pumpkins seeds and more cheese.

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