America’s hot rising chef, Anthony Lamas, and cuisine of Louisville’s Seviche [classic article]

I first checked out the Latin/California/Louisville fusion fare of Seviche several years ago, when it was one of the new gems on L’ville’s restaurant scene. Now, its chef, Anthony Lamas, has really started garnering national attention! Here are some of his recent accolades:

In 2014, he was one of 16 chefs asked to take part in the James Beard Foundation’s fifth Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. He has also cooked at the famed James Beard House six times, is a three-time James Beard Award semi-finalist and has participated in the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner Series in Nashville, Saratoga and Asheville. Seviche was also recently inducted into the Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) organization, a prestigious achievement. John Mariani of Esquire said, “Seviche has emerged as one of America’s best and most innovative Nuevo Latino restaurants with plenty of the chef’s personality in every dish… If you have time for one meal in Louisville, make it Seviche.”

With his passionate nature and engaging personality, Lamas is a seasoned TV chef. He won on Food Networks’ Extreme Chef, has appeared on the Cooking Channel’s America’s Best Bites and was featured in Back Home, a documentary by Diego Luna that explored his culinary connections to Mexico. Most recently, he competed on the debut episode of Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay and helped bring new life to struggling venues as a culinary expert on SPIKE TV’s Bar Rescue. The New York Times, Garden & Gun, Southern Living, Bon Appetit and Wine Spectator have also highlighted Lamas’ talent.

I’ve met Lamas in person, followed his posts online and have seen many of his television appearances. He is quite mild-mannered and if not faux-modest, he’s definitely not arrogant. I was surprised to hear all the bleeped out frustrated comments on Bar Rescue!

Louisville is pretty laid-back when it’s not Derby weekend. Dress at Seviche is dressy-casual. In pleasant weather – which Kentucky has plenty of – there’s some seating outside. The restaurant itself, in the funky and fun Highlands neighborhood, has a lot of glass in its architecture; even eating inside feels like outside! Modern rock and alt-country plays in the background.

Lamas is of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage and worked as a youngster in his family’s Spanish restaurant. He learned his craft under (now DC) Chef Jeff Tunks in California, picking up that state’s culinary sensibilities, including an emphasis on fresh, local produce and Pacific Rim fusion.

Though I love Lamas’ new Bloody Mary line – and even picked up a couple of veggie-intense Loaded bottles at a liquor store across the street from Seviche – it was evening and I wanted to try something a little more dinner-friendly. There are several signature drinks, including a hot pepper infused lemonade with gin; refreshing and different.

Water service is elegant with cucumber in the beverage. With spicier foods, you will drink more and they do keep the water refilled.

I tried several small courses, then moved onto entrees. I started out with a very “chefy” thing: Roasted Cauliflower with fingerling potato, farm egg, arugula, champagne mustarda. It was a carefully slow-cooked “perfect” egg garnished with roasted vegetables and fresh greens. Cauliflower retained crispness under a tangy dressing . Yellow cherry tomatoes were mild and very juicy. Fresh black pepper seasons the dish, which includes a paper thin radish slice and tender baby greens. I learned that Lamas has produce specially grown for him – including hot peppers — at local Ambrosia Farms. As with fellow Californian Alice Waters, produce is treated with respect.

Liver and onions isn’t 1950’s diner fare here! Veal calves liver with Peruvian lima beans, Point Reyes blue cheese, country ham demi glace and caramelized onions has veal offal flavors, but isn’t gamy. The blue cheese adds savory flavor. This was terrific with a medium bodied white wine; wine service is excellent at the restaurant. After all, the menu has a lot of flavors going on, but the servers are quite knowledgeable about how to go about it.

24 hour pork belly was served with spicy collards, chipotle and Kentucky sorghum. The meat was butter knife tender! There were grill flavors with a hint of sweetness in sauce, some heat. The braised greens still had texture.

I learned that Peru has a history of Japanese settlement and so, I was interested to order the “Albacore Tiradito” with watermelon, yuzu, chili flake, sea salt. It’s served sashimi-style, with tuna on watermelon, micro green tomato: a sweet-salty combo. The heart of watermelon chunk was treated as a savory. On a visit to Louisville several years ago, Lamas explained to me that Louisville is a UPS hub, so fresh seafood comes there first!

Tuna “Old Fashioned” is a terrific fusion dish: locally produced Bluegrass soy, orange, Kentucky bourbon, pineapple. The soy provide a salt kick and Old Fashioneds are cool cocktails in Kentucky. The flavors compliment each other.

As it turns out, even vegan diners can be daredevils with Grilled Ambrosia Farm Chile Peppers. They’re 11 different peppers served with California Olive Ranch extra virgin olive oil, citrus and sea salt. This is the one time I wish there had been some bread service, because you never know with Mother Nature just how hot a pepper can be! I suggest ordering a beer ahead of the course and keeping it at the ready: alcohol dissipates capsaicin, while water will just spread the heat around your mouth. Just like a tomato tasting, I enjoyed learning about the different fruit/vegetable flavors of the peppers. Something you might consider: using the peppers as further garnish with other dishes, if you can’t eat 11 peppers at once.

Green Chile Caesar is hearts of Romaine, pepita seeds, grated manchego, sliced radishes, yellow tomato halves, tortilla crisp. This is not a “phoning it in” salad!

Churrascos de Argentina is skirt steak, chimichurri, served with roasted pepper and scallion garnished red mashed potatoes. This is a hearty, savory meat. The cilantro sauce is tangy and provides residual heat. The dish is served with potatoes the way I’d prepare them at home: with scallions, cheese and a chunky mash. Potatoes (starch and fat) help cool down the pepper on your tongue.

That night, halibut was substituted for Wild Black Grouper with crab “cigar”, macadamia nut, red chile ginger butter, Bluegrass soy. The fish was firm and the plating seemed to tell a story. The rice is well-flavored, not merely a plate filler. The crab cigarette is fun, with a hit of spice. If you’re still craving roasted peppers, there’s one with this dish, too.

Tres leches cake goes very well with bourbon ice cream.

I’m an adventurous eater, so there’s no way I wasn’t going to try “The Avocado”: avocado ice cream, dulce de leche, bourbon truffle “pit” chocolate shell, coffee pine nut soil. It’s beautifully plated and creative, but the avocado ice cream was too savory-vegetal for me. I recently had avocado ice cream in The Bahamas and I felt the same way.

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