#MoringaInspired: A Journey With Myself, Family, and Chef José Andrés
A recount of my experience as the winner of Kuli Kuli’s #MoringaInspired Cooking Competition.
Written by: Branka Cosic
So you want to hear about how it all started? I can’t tell you. Because I forgot… I can’t remember the first time I heard about Kuli Kuli Foods or Moringa. Who and what the heck is that?
What I do remember? “Win a trip to DC and dine at China Chilcano, Chef José Andrés’ new restaurant, meet World Central Kitchen (WCK) staff!” Well, just the trip to DC to see my daughter that lives there would be awesome, I thought… Let alone dinner at Chef José’s Peruvian fusion restaurant and meeting the WCK staff, which I was a tad familiar with from being on their email list.
Brief Moringa research meant traveling to the closest Whole Foods Market about an hour away from my home. I came home, set the bag of Moringa on the counter and thought “what now?” A few weeks later in August I posted my first Moringa-inspired dish on Instagram. Immediately after that I started dreaming about this trip—dinner at one of my favorite and deeply respected Chef José Andrés’ restaurant, seeing my daughter, meeting the WCK staff and, perhaps somehow, becoming involved in the goodness they’ve been spreading around the world.
Each photo I submitted brought me one step closer to my dream come true.
Fast-forward six weeks and 15 Moringa-inspired creations later, I posted my last photo and reflected on what a fun journey it had been. I learned so much more about the Moringa tree and cooking with the superfood. I thanked all of my Instagram followers for their support and hoped that I inspired a few of them to make healthier choices in their lives. I thanked my family for eating all of the superfood meals I made for them, helping me with photographs, critiquing the dishes… It wasn’t always easy.
Then, guess what! One week later I received an email from Kuli Kuli Foods that I placed in the top ten! Wooohooo, hello people, top ten!!! It was such a huge deal for me! HUGE!! I was so happy, but on the other hand, thought that this was serious and I so totally wanted to win!
For the entire month of September I had no break in cooking and creating recipes with Moringa! I cooked the same meals over again and wrote the recipes out as you see them in cookbooks. I will never look at a cookbook the same, to say the least!
I thought it would be nice to get away from the kitchen for a few days so I accompanied my husband on a business trip to Las Vegas, Nevada. We were enjoying our last meal at Caesar’s Palace buffet, Bacchanal, which was voted best in 2015. After leaving numerous missed calls and texts, my youngest daughter managed to get through to my husband to tell him that I had won the 1st prize in the Moringa Inspired contest! I remember sitting at the table, with emotions flooding my body, my eyes tearing up, not being able to say much.No words, just emotions. Things like this happen to other people, they win grand prizes, not me, I’m just a simple mom!
After a while I just thought of how my hard work paid off and felt amazingly happy.
Our dinner reservations were made for Friday, October 29th at 6pm at China Chilcano. Overwhelmed by new exciting emotions that we may meet the Chef himself, we were seated next to the window and given menus by the fabulous Bridget. The four of us looked over the menu and tried to choose from all of the amazing options–Bridget came back several times, but we couldn’t even make up our minds on what to drink, let alone what we would eat! Then, General Manager Mayu Horie approached our table, introduced herself, welcomed us, and gave us a quick introduction about the restaurant concept and menu.
Chifa, Criollo, Nikkei… The fusion of Chinese, Spanish, and Japanese cuisines with Peruvian were behind the concept of China Chilcano… Our taste buds waited impatiently to embark on this culinary journey.
The amazing Mayu suggested a Honey Crisp Apple Chilcano and made our life easy by suggesting the restaurant’s 15-course tasting menu so we could try as many dishes possible. Some of the dishes were adapted for me, as I have been on a plant-based diet for several years now.
Beautifully presented masterpieces began filling our table. Each dish was a work of art—created with elaborate attention to detail. Our mouths were bursting with dynamic flavors and our table was a stage with dishes changing like the best performers of the night.
Our server, Bridget and Mayu, checked on our table and made sure everything was perfect—answering questions, sharing history, and Mayu shared her story of joining Chef José Andrés on his DC culinary adventures.
Then, believe it or not, Chef José Andrés himself walked to our table to say hello and spend a few moments with us.
What an honor! I have great respect and admiration for Chef José, his work, and the footprints he is leaving behind him. This was beyond exciting for my family and me. We took a few photos with Chef José at the table and he left us to enjoy our dinner. At that moment I felt proud of myself and everything I have accomplished over the last few months. Just to be there in his presence felt amazing. Beautiful creations bursting with flavor continued coming and engraving themselves into our memories. We knew we were getting closer to the end of this unforgettable evening when desserts were served, but I knew that this experience would live with me forever.
It was time to say our goodbyes and we stopped by Chef José’s table to again take a few photos and thank him for being so gracious and finding a few moments in his extremely busy schedule to come and greet us. We had such a wonderful time at his restaurant.
This was my fourth dining experience at a Chef José Andrés restaurant, and definitely the best one. I learned about him via PBS episodes “Made in Spain” several years ago. Just the concept of the episodes, him travelling to his home country, Spain, and then coming to his home in the US and recreating dishes from Spain, was very interesting. Every episode was educational and interesting and once I made his cold tomato soup Salmorejo, that originates in Andalucia, I was hooked to his great personality. It helped that his cold tomato and bread soup found a permanent place in my kitchen! Every year when my garden is decorated with homegrown tomatoes like a christmas tree, I remember that episode!
Since visiting China Poblano in Las Vegas, I’ve been to Zaytinya in DC (last year), Bazaar Meat in Las Vegas and now China Chilcano, Oyamel and Beefsteak, one of DC’s best restaurants.
Our journey did not end here. Of course not! My prize was 3 days in DC and what better to do than to visit another amazing Chef José Andrés restaurant. Mayu made dinner reservations the next day for us to dine in Oyamel, Cocina Mexicana, where antojitos – Mexican small plates – are served. Another restaurant, another unforgettable story, matching completely new decor and a new menu, but the narrative carries through each one.
Ceviches, tacos, vegetables, tequilas, margaritas…. traditional Mexican ingredients taken to another level and presented beautifully were once again stars of the night.
We were on a world tour, so to speak, and somehow on that chilly last night of October, we found ourselves warming up at a modern, beautifully bright blue and white decorated Zaytinya- Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern meze (mezze) style restaurant. We stopped there for dessert and a glass of wine, and enjoyed our evening! You could feel the warmth of the mediterranean sun, hear the sea and everyone talking, gathered around meze plates, relaxed and surrounded by olive oil-filled deco vases with legs of lamb roasting on the indoor spit. It took me back 25 years to when we lived in Serbia and Greece was just a hop, skip, and jump away. Zaytinya captures the spirit of the Mediterranean perfectly — food, friends, family, plates to share, good talks, and laughs is what brings people together. Zaytinya is also one of the best restaurants in DC.
And if you think that was it, you are wrong! I just had to visit the amazing new eatery at Dupont Circle, with a fairly new concept that I think will spread to many cities across the continent, and quickly. Beefsteak (no connections with beef or steak, it is one of the largest tomato varieties) is a new eatery concept where fresh vegetables take center stage on your plate. This is not meant to be vegetarian, vegan, fast food nor a salad bar. It is about serving great food, fast! And that is exactly what it is.
From the moment you walk in, you are greeted by veggies dancing across the walls. You just know you will have a great time. You choose your veggies, then your grains, then sauce them up with a choice from a few homemade sauces, chicken, salt-cured salmon, or a poached egg as a protein and then finish your bowl with a selection from their crunchy toppings. You sip on a cup of lavender lemonade, beet and apple juice, or green juice, sit at your table and slowly savor this fast made fresh bowl full of veggie goodness. As Chef José Andrés said, “Vegetables are our future, they are so sexy!”
How can you not admire such a great person and all he has accomplished around the globe since he came to America? It would take too much time to list every recognition received, project and organization started, TV episode and cooking program he has appeared on, cookbook he wrote, restaurant opened, restaurant concept created, medallions and awards he’s received!
After a devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, Chef José traveled to Haiti to cook for people in need. It was then that he created World Central Kitchen, a non-profit humanitarian organization that helps countries and people in need from around the world in fighting hunger, educating and introducing them to better cooking methods. He teaches “Science of Cooking” at Harvard University and “The World on a Plate: How Food Shapes Civilization” at George Washington University, supports First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign “Let’s Move”, and is an outstanding role model in the Latino and immigrant communities…..and so much more!
Chef José Andrés is an amazing person changing the world through the power of food.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the #MoringaInspired recipe contest and have an experience that will stay with me forever!