From tacos to chilaquiles, Carnaval del Sol food gets festive

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      Chef David Alcaraz was born in Xalapa, the highland capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz, and later moved to Los Mochis, near the coast of Sinaloa. Now living with his own family in Surrey, he remembers the dishes that his mom, grandma, and aunts made for him while he was growing up: tamales, mole, and chilatole, a corn-based chili-pepper soup, to name a few.

      Here in B.C., the father of two began revisiting many of those beloved dishes when his kids were little, perfecting recipes that had been passed down through his family from one generation to the next. It was the rekindling of these food memories that prompted Alcaraz to begin a catering company in 2017 and, earlier this year, launch his own restaurant.

      Both businesses operate under the name of Miltomates Foods (4–9613 192 Street, Surrey). You’ll find all of those aforementioned Mexican comfort dishes and then some on offer: burritos, tacos, enchiladas, gringas (a type of taco), quesadillas, Sinaloense-style ceviche, pozole (a thick soup made with hominy), and carne en su jugo (meat cooked in its own juices). They’re all based on ingredients that were always in his family’s kitchen: notably, tomatoes, chili peppers, and bold spices.

      “In Mexico, my culinary training focused more on food science, Argentinean barbecues, and seafood,” Al­caraz tells the Georgia Straight. “I actually didn’t prepare the traditional dishes that I do now until I came to Canada, because in Mexico you can find them anywhere; here, not so many places offer the variety of typical Mexican food that I love.

      “When my daughter was one and my son was two-and-a-half, I was a stay-at-home dad while my wife worked, and it was in this year that I started working on my recipes for Mexican food, not only so I could satisfy my own cravings but so I could introduce to my children this part of their heritage,” he says. “I am very social, and food is all about bringing people together to not only enjoy eating but to enjoy each other’s company. So many of my fond childhood memories involved food prepared by family members for gatherings and parties.”

      A celebratory spirit is at the very heart of Carnaval del Sol, the biggest Latin festival in the Pacific Northwest. Now in its 10th year, the upcoming two-day event, produced by Latincouver, aims to re-create at Concord Pacific Place the buzz of an authentic Latin American plaza.

      Among the highlights are live music, a fashion show, traditional folk dances from various countries, Latin dance lessons, visual art (including Indigenous pieces), and, not surprisingly, food. Local and visiting chefs will be doing cooking demonstrations on a culinary stage, each preparing signature dishes as representatives of their home countries.

      Alcaraz will show people how to make tacos de Barbacoa de Borrego—which contain slow-cooked lamb—and salsa, for instance. New Orleans native Dreux Antoine, a musician and chef who has restaurants in Houston and Los Angeles, is attending. The executive producer of Soulful Chef Cooking Show is also the author of the Soulful Chef Cookbook series. He’ll prepare Cajun shrimp chilaquiles, Spanish rice, and barbecued-brisket empanadas.

      Other chefs include Mexico’s Antonio Santos, Brazil’s Eliane Trovo, and Colombia’s Manuel Pinilla. Provence Marinaside chef Matt Ward will represent Canada.

      There will also be a kids’ zone, beer plaza, and soccer tournament to check out, all with a fiesta vibe to bring a taste of Latin American culture to B.C.

      “What I love the most about the food industry are the events and festivals that I can be a part of,” Alcaraz says. “Carnaval del Sol is a celebration of the Latin American culture here in Vancouver, and the catering side of business is about this: being part of people’s special celebrations. Just as in Mexico, we have so many reasons and occasions to celebrate life with our family, friends, and neighbours here.”

      The 10th annual Carnaval del Sol takes place Saturday and Sunday (July 7 and 8) at Concord Pacific Place (88 Pacific Boulevard). For more info, visit the Carnaval del Sol website.