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I met Mary Luz Mejia last year when she and I were asked to judge some dishes in a Latino culinary competition. Mary Luz is a Colombian-Canadian food journalist and Gemini-nominated TV writer, producer and director. One of her impressive credits is At the Table With ….. Each episode is a biography of a  well-known and influential chefs. Some examples are Rick Bayless, Douglas Rodriguez, Rob Feenie, Cat Cora and Lidia Bastianich.

As I got to know Mary Luz better, I discovered that we had a lot in common. We both have a mission in life: to promote and celebrate our Hispanics roots. And when we compared our greatest influence, we both came up with Cuban-American chef and restaurateur Maricel Presilla.

Maricel is considered to be the continent most influential Latin American food historian. She’s an author, holds a doctorate in medieval Spanish history from New York University, writes for Gourmet, Saveur, Food and Wine, and contributes a weekly column to The Miami Herald.

Out of the blue, Mary Luz calls to say that she had signed Maricel to a episode of At The Table With, that she was going to Miami to interview her, and then to Hoboken, NJ, home of Maricel’s two restaurants, Cucharamama and Zafra, where the remainder of the episode would be filmed. [The episode will air in the fall.]

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Mary Luz [left] and Maricel in Miami

Then, comes the call. Mary Luz says Maricel is coming to town on business and would I like to come to dinner? Would I like to cook?

Who wouldn’t love the opportunity to cook for a culinary heroes? I couldn’t believe my good fortune. So last Monday, there we were at Mary Luz’s house, cooking for the Queen of Latino American cuisine.

We started with pan-seared scallops, dusted with annatto, and served with an avocado, cucumber and apple salsa, inspired by my wife Stephanie, who first made this dish in a similar version. We paired the dish with a pinot gris.

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Finishing the scallops with Mary Luz

Next came roasted organic pork tenderloin, with a parsnip and mushroom stew, and a relish of fennel, pickled eggplant and green olives. We paired this with an Alsatian Gewurztraminer.

Mary Luz’s husband, Mario, made the main course — a Croatian-style dish of paprika sweet peppers, stuffed with beef and barley, served with a light tomato sauce and sour cream. We paired this with a Spanish garancha.

For dessert, I made sweet plantain empanadas stuffed with dulce de leche and served with vanilla almond ice cream. Mario brought out a great port from his cellar.

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Sweet plantain empanadas just waiting to be eaten.

It was an incredible experience just because of the guest of honour, but it was also like dinner with old friends you haven’t seen for a while. You are having so much fun you don’t want the night to end.

Yours in cooking for new friends
Carlos

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*Spanish for: "Mmm. Wow. That's good!"