[en español aqui]
“The melted cheese, the crispiness of the pork. Oh man, it's just like I'm sitting in a road trip with my family. Food brings back so much memories of home, just like in Venezuela.” Chef Juan Pablo Gonzalez is talking about a cachapa – a savoury-sweet corn pancake – filled with pulled pork and salty cheese.
“I remember growing up in Venezuela going on long road trips with my family. And cachapas were always at the centre stage of the road trip because you can just smell them from miles and miles and miles away,” says Gonzalez, one of the hosts of new SBS Food show The Latin Kitchen. “Because traditionally they're cooked in a big iron skillet powered by firewood. So you can just smell the smokiness, smell the sugar, smell everything as you're approaching the small towns.”
Luckily for those of us far from any chance of a Venezuelan road trip, cachapas are now popping up on menus in Australia – or you can easily make you own. In fact, we think Gonzalez’ recipe for cachapas is our new favourite reason for making pulled pork. Roast and shred the pork and have it in the fridge, and you can then have cachapas, folded over crisp-edged pork and melted cheese, on your plate in under half an hour.
The ingredients for cachapa batter vary from a simple mix of processed sweet corn and oil to richer versions made with additions including flour (often pre-cooked corn flour, known as masarepa or harina pan, which is also the name of one of the most well-known brands), butter and sugar.
“In Venezuela you find cachapas everywhere. It’s a Venezuelan staple and we carry the knowledge of how to cook them in our DNA!” he says.
So why Kachapas with a ‘k’, we ask. A regional variation in Venezuela?
“Cachapas is part of our Indigeneous heritage since hundreds of years ago. It’s our cultural tradition. But in order to register the trademark of the business, we had to make the change from c to k. So the dish is cachapa, but our business is named Kachapas. We like to say ‘Kachapas with K for kangaroo’, since the kangaroo is Australia’s animal emblem and we are working with both our culinary origins as well as local Australian ingredients, in order to fuse the best of both countries.”
The stall’s menu offers cachapas with chicken, pork, beans and other filling options, catering for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free diners.
NSW has also had a taste of his cooking. “The first time I came to Australia was from 2007 to 2011. My wife was studying in Sydney and I didn't speak English at the time so I began working as a kitchen hand. I discovered my passion for the hospitality industry and I opened a Venezuelan food stall that I would run in festivals and markets all over NSW,” he explains. After returning to Venezuela, the couple came back in 2015, this time settling in Perth and opening the Kachapas stall.
“The wonderful thing about cachapas is that you can adapt it to all dietary requirements. We make it gluten-free and you can design it as you wish in order to cater for meat eaters as well as the vegan community. Having said that, the most popular fillings [at Kachapas] are premium shredded beef, black beans, cheese and salad together with guasacaca (avocado sauce), sour cream, crema chipotle and our signature chilli sauce,” Bello Sangronis says.
“In Venezuela, we eat cachapas primarily with butter and handmade cheeses.”
For Juan Pablo Gonzalez, it’s all about the cheese. Originally from the Venezuelan city of Caracas, he now lives in Vancouver, Canada. “What really makes a cachapa a cachapa is the melted cheese inside!” he says in The Latin Kitchen, as he cooks up a batch filled with pulled pork and melted cheese.
Pork is a popular filling in Venezuela, he explains, “but you can use whatever you have in your fridge.”
One key point in making them is to be patient. "Never rush an arepa or a cachapa!" he tells us, when SBS Food chats to him about the show (arepas, corn breads popular in Venezuela and Colombia, feature in episode two of The Latin Kitchen).
"Cachacas are cooked in a similar fashion to a pancake or hot cake, they take a little longer to cook and can be a complete mess if a flipping attempt is made prematurely."
Gonzalez, who tells us he loves the idea of sharing his Venezuelan food with audiences here, says a visit to Australia is on his wish list.
"I have never been to Australia, although my wife has lived in and travelled to Australia and New Zealand during her early 20s. It is high in my bucket list to travel to both Australia and New Zealand in the near future and enjoy the beautiful beaches and landscape."
And while he makes plans to come here one day, he's got us dreaming of a Venezuelan road trip,
"The best cachapa, in my opinion, is eaten at a road side restaurant on the way to the coast. Served fresh, straight from a budare [a traditional round flat cooking iron] heated by a wood fire, topped with an individual piece of queso de mano. This cheese is very fresh and most likely made the same day you are enjoying it," he tells us.
And if thoughts a wood-fired cachapas filled with fresh salty cheese are making you hungry, the good news is you don't need a plane ticket, or a wood-fired oven, to put cachapas on your plate: Get his recipes for pulled pork and cachapas here),
Watch Juan Pablo Gonzalez cook cachapas in the first episode The Latin Kitchen, then tune in as he and fellow hosts from Spain and Mexico cook their favourite dishes weekdays, 4.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33 from Monday July 8. Episodes will also be available on SBS On Demand after they air.
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