By Shannon Mason
It’s always a privilege when we can invite our alumni back to ICE to share their professional expertise with our students, including those in recreational cooking classes. Recently we welcomed back Ivy Stark, a 1995 graduate of ICE’s Culinary Arts program, and currently the Corporate Executive Chef of Dos Caminos, a critically-acclaimed restaurant with several locations in New York City as well as New Jersey and Florida.
The restaurant thrives on her creative vision, featuring a menu of Mexican cuisine with a modern twist. Far from your typical plates of rice and beans, it is an elegant take on this popular cuisine. Needless to say, ICE is always looking to feature the most innovative chefs, and there are few better suited than Ivy to share a fresh take on the classic taco.
Ivy’s class focused on three dishes from her recently-published cookbook, Dos Caminos Tacos: 100 Recipes for Everyone’s Favorite Mexican Street Food. She led us through the preparation of a three-course menu featuring a Watercress, Jicama and Orange Salad; Baja-style Mahi Mahi Tacos with Citrus-Cucumber Relish; and Prickly Pear Tres Leches.
What I love best about Mexican cuisine is the fresh combination of cilantro, fresh citrus, and jalapeño, and Ivy showed us how to maximize the flavors of all our ingredients. For example, she showed me how to supreme an orange—slicing in-between the membrane so the wedges separate from the bitter white ends. This allows the citrus juices to escape from the segments, providing extra moisture, flavor, and even color to dishes like the Watercress, Jicama and Orange Salad we prepared.
In addition to providing tips to bring out the most flavor from our ingredients, Ivy also showed us a number of clever time-saving techniques. One of the most useful we learned that night involved my favorite herb: cilantro. I used to dread any recipe that called for whole cilantro leaves, as picking off each leaf one by one is such a tedious task. From Ivy, I learned to position my knife at an angle close to the cutting board to shave the cilantro leaves from the stems in one easy motion, making this task a quick and painless step in my mise en place.
My favorite trick of the night was the way Ivy de-seeded the jalapeños. Have you ever handled a jalapeño and, even after washing your hands, still found that the burning sensation made its way to your eyes? Fans of coconut oil—add one more awesome tip to your list: after cutting the jalapeños or chiles, rub some coconut oil on your hands and then wash your hands with soap and water. The compound responsible for the burning feeling, called capsaicin, is oil-soluble and loosens from your pores when coconut oil is massaged into your skin. Don’t have coconut oil? Running your hands through your hair—where natural oil is always readily available—produces a similar effect.
When it came time to eat, the main event was Ivy’s Baja-style Mahi Mahi Tacos. But what does “Baja-style” mean? Compared to preparing tacos the way most Americans are used to—Tex-Mex-style, which smothers dishes in greasy melted cheese and heavy spices—Ivy’s tacos were all about light and fresh flavors from a variety of citrus juices, fresh herbs, and the natural heat of chiles and jalapeños. Even the texture was a game-changer, from the crispy beer-battered filets to a crunchy relish made with cucumbers, white cabbage, red onions, and more. However, those who missed the comforting Tex-Mex creaminess of sour cream or cheese found salvation in the chipotle aioli we prepared from scratch. With mayo, dill, garlic, lime, and chipotle purée, just a drizzle of this spicy and creamy red sauce is all you need.
A fresh take on the beloved and traditional tres leches was the perfect end to our meal. While one of my favorite desserts, its cream-white color does not do its flavors any justice—Ivy’s recipe for Prickly Pear Tres Leches changes all that. Not only was the prickly pear purée a creative addition, it gave the dessert an attractive boost of color as well as an appealing, fruitier flavor.
So now it’s your turn to dive into Ivy’s modern Mexican dishes: we’re sharing her recipe for those delicious Baja-style tacos below, so test them out for yourself!
Baja-Style Mahi Mahi Tacos with Chipotle Aioli
Yield: Serves 4
Mahi Mahi Tacos
- 8 (3-ounce) mahi mahi fillets (cod or pollock may be substituted)
- oil for frying
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup ice-cold Mexican beer, such as Tecate
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
- 4 limes, quartered
- Preheat a fryer or a deep pot, filled halfway with oil, to 375º F.
- Sift together dry ingredients, then whisk in the beer.
- Sprinkle the pieces of mahi mahi with the salt, then dip into prepared batter.
- Deep-fry for about 3 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
- Quickly warm the tortillas. Place one piece of mahi mahi on each tortilla, garnish with a little of the cucumber-citrus relish, and drizzle each taco with a tablespoon of the chipotle aioli hot sauce (recipe below).
- Fold the tortillas in half. Place two tacos on each plate and serve warm with lime quarters.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons dill, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons chipotle puree
- Purée in a blender until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Want to learn more secrets of the pros? Check out ICE’s recreational classes.
Inspired by Ivy’s recipes? Learn more about our culinary arts program.