A cuisine can speak volumes about a culture, and Houston will soon get an authentic taste of the exquisite flavors and fare of Chile. This October, in partnership with Wines of Chile, Omni Hotels & Resorts will introduce ¡Destinación Chile!, a three-month-long brand-wide culinary experience, complete with recipes, ingredients and wine sourced straight from the South American country.
This year’s partnership is a rendition of Omni’s annual Flavors of the World series which features an innovative food and wine menu inspired by the region’s fare.
In preparation to launch ¡Destinación Chile!, Omni brought together its chefs for a week-long culinary immersion trip to experience authentic Chilean cooking. The training took place at the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America, widely regarded as the world’s premier cooking school. There, renowned Wines of Chile chef Rocío Alvarado Díaz taught the hotel’s culinary team about Chilean culture, indigenous flavor profiles and ingredients, and how to effectively pair wines with each dish to enhance the flavors.
“It is important to us that our chefs receive continuous training and education in order to stay at the cusp of innovation," says David Morgan, Omni’s vice president of food and beverage. "In this case, to experience hands on training and a cultural immersion led by our Wines of Chile partner chef.”
Training began with learning how to make empanadas — “the epitome of Chilean cuisine,” according to Díaz — as well as the flavor base of most Chilean cooking, the sofrito, a powerful combination of sautéed garlic and onion, seasoned with cumin, paprika, oregano and black pepper.
The chefs then tried their hand at creating the Chilean staple and other dishes as an experiment for what to include on their Flavors of the World menu. Upon completion, chefs sampled their dishes while facing a critique from Diaz, who provided direct and constructive feedback.
“A lot of [the training] revolves around connecting with the soul of food,” says regional executive Chef Daven Wardynski, who helps to drive Omni’s culinary agenda and has 17 years of experience in the industry. “At the end of the day, that’s what all of us as chefs are looking to do — to build a connection with the food.”
When the promotion launches this fall, Omni guests can expect to receive a truly authentic experience as they taste their way through the menu and are transported to South America through bold seasoning and unique Chilean recipes. Brisket and prawn empanadas are standouts on the menu, which also features a variety of appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Chacarerito sliders and milcaos con pebre de palto (fried potato cakes) are also sure to be crowd favorites. Each of these dishes prepared by the Omni chefs received high praise from Díaz during the CIA training.
Deep dive into Chilean wines
During the trip, chefs also took a deep dive into Chilean wines. Led by Wines of Chile, the session acted as a tutorial into the country's diverse climate and how it relates not only to the food but also the distinctly varied varietals.
In September, Omni’s food and beverage directors will travel to Chile to gain a deeper, and more intimate, understanding of the culture, wine and food. The group will also meet with some of the Chilean winemakers who have helped craft a sophisticated wine list to perfectly complement this year’s menu.
Omni selected these soon-to-be featured Chilean wines at a grand wine tasting at Omni Fort Worth Hotel in April, where, thanks to Wines of Chile, many of the wineries were represented. Each participating hotel will offer eight unique Chilean wines, in 6- and 9-ounce pours.
“We don’t want to be known as a cookie-cutter company but rather an innovative brand with many different facets,” Morgan says. This is apparent when visiting any Omni location, including the 13 properties found in Texas that match each city’s personality and vibe. At Omni Houston Hotel, guests witness eclectic yet beautiful natural features inside and out, as the property showcases two outdoor swimming pools and two resident black swans.
This October through December, visitors to Omni can experience this worldly dining venture at either of the Houston Omni properties — Omni Houston Hotel and Omni Houston Hotel at Westside. The Chilean wines will be available in all of the hotel bars with the food available in all of the main restaurants. Don’t miss this opportunity to revel in a one-of-a-kind gourmet adventure without leaving the comforts of your own backyard.
Want to try your hand at making your own empanadas? This exclusive, easy-to-use recipe, courtesy of Chef Rocío Alvarado Díaz and Omni Hotels & Resorts, calls for a beef filling, but the beauty of empanadas is that they can be stuffed with anything.
Make a dessert empanada with cinnamon apples or peaches, or breakfast empanadas with eggs, cheese and sausage. No matter the style, you can’t go wrong.
2 pounds flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
10 ounces warm milk
3 ounces vegetable oil
3 egg yolks
½ ounce baking powder
Combine all ingredients in a mixer with a dough hook. Kneed on speed 1 for five to seven minutes or until fully developed. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (working with cold dough is essential for empanadas), before rolling and cutting.
2 pounds beef brisket, braised, chopped
1 pound onion, small diced
2 tablespoons lard, melted
8 ounces beef stock
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 hard cooked eggs, quartered
1 ounce raisins
20 black olives, quartered
Sauté onions in melted lard until lightly caramelized. Add chopped beef and beef stock and bring to boil. Season with paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Chill and reserve.
Lightly flour a work surface and roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out 4 ½ inch dough rounds. For each empanada use 1 ounce beef, ¼ boiled egg, 3 raisins and 3 olive quarters. Add 1.25 oz of filling to one half of each dough round and brush the other half of the dough with egg yolk (this is so the dough sticks together). Use a fork to press and seal the edges closed.
You can either bake or deep fry empanadas. To bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange empanadas on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Turn empanadas and bake for five minutes, until lightly browned on both sides. To fry, heat oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees. Fry empanadas until golden brown, six to seven minutes.
Serving suggestion – 3 empanadas per person. Recipe yields 16 servings. (48 empanadas)