Ines Paez, better known as Chef Tita, in the last times is playing an important role develop Dominican gastronomy, highlighting the ancestral and native ingredients to create the new Dominican cuisine.

Currently, she is recognized as Ambassador of Dominican Cuisine, for her great initiative and hard work, which has allowed her to make know all that the Dominican Republic has to offer in the world of gastronomy. Likewise, collaborating in foundations like Refettorio Paris (solidary restaurant), devised by the Italian chef Massimo Bottura.

 

Nowadays, you are one of the best chefs in the Dominican Republic, and I think to achieve a position like this, you have to do a lot of passion and a great story behind it. Tell me, how has your passion for cooking started?

“My passion for cuisine comes from when I was a child because I always saw my mother cooking for us and making cakes. My father was involved, fishing and producing the soil, that was something that marked my childhood a lot. Since I was very young, I always knew that I want to be a cook. That love lives in me and continues growing every moment, and every day I become more passionate about this job.”

 

 

How were your formation and first experience in the world of gastronomy?

“I studied gastronomy in the Dominican Republic. First, I did a bachelor’s degree in Tourist and Hospitality Administration in UNIBE, then, a diploma in Gastronomy in PUCMM, and finally, a specialization in the Culinary Institute of America”.

“At 17 years old I had my first job in a kitchen and from this moment I was madly in love with what I do, which is cook with my heart. My line of cuisine always has exalted the Dominican gastronomy, to make an author’s cuisine, care more the ingredients and search the sustainability in creations, which has been my focus.”

 

Why do you believe the Dominican cuisine wasn’t previously valued?

“I consider that before was more valued the foreign cuisine, the preparations from other countries, according to most people, were exotic and what attracted the attention. However, now we have a better appreciation of the Dominican cuisine, we value more our identity and all our influences. We value more the chefs that are doing a different and distinctive job, a contemporary and avant-garde cuisine.”

 

Being the first chef in work 100% with Dominican ingredients in the haute cuisine has led you to win the title as Ambassador of Dominican Cuisine in the World. In which international experiences have you had the opportunity to show the new Dominican cuisine?

“I have lived so many important journeys that have marked my life, which is very difficult to choose one to tell you. One of the most special and that I’ll never forget was to cook with my instructor chef Martin Berasategui (8 Michelin Stars) in an homage to him, which was called Encuentro entre dos Mundos, he from Spain and I from the Dominican Republic. Another that neither I will forget was to cook Dominican food in India during a whole month in the first Latin-American gastronomy festival, the mix of culture, and the exchange with the chefs who represented each country invited made it memorable. Finally, the impact that cassava cause in Sweden when I was the opportunity to cook there.”

 

You have traveled the world bringing Dominican cuisine at a high level, such as, on January 23, 2017, you represented the Dominican Republic in Madrid Fusión, one of the most important gastronomic events in the world; then, you were invited by Excelencias Gourmet in Cuba where they made you a recognition; On February 27, you were the figure of Taste DR in Miami, where you also received recognition by the mayor of Miami for your projection. What do you feel having these international recognitions and being invited from other countries to be part of important events?

“That worldwide recognition fills me of pride, is a recognition to our cuisine and the hard work that I have done all these years, always I have represented my country invited by governments and ambassadors in other countries, is amazing how our cuisine begin to be recognized in the world, and how do I start to see a dream come true for which I fought without resting for a long time, this makes me stronger to move forward and to be more confident with the potential of the Dominican Republic and to continue walking on this journey that is just beginning.”

 

I know you are a great promoter of use up ingredients from local producers of each region. What are some of your local partners from whom you source? Which products do you use from this local partner?

“I stock up on several producers since along the way I have met producers and communities with excellent products. An example of that is the women of the Productivas of Corozo Abajo, Yamasas; My people of Coproleca in Memizos, Nagua with excellent oregano; The women of Chocal, Palmargrande, Puerto Plata with the chocolate; Gofio of Altamira, Puerto Plata; Cheeses supplied from different parts of the Dominican Republic; We also work with products from the producers of Loma Quita Espuela. All depend on the production, and what we will cook, from there, we stock up from these small producers and seek sustainability.”

 

What are your favorites Dominican ingredients? What do you do with them?

“The cassava, because it is very versatile and we can play a lot… from the cassava cream to our Casabe “Ancestral Bread”. Another ingredient is the mango, we can prepare a chutney of mango, a delicious Guatapana ceviche with Banilejo mango, or a mango and passion fruit vinaigrette to season the salad, among many other uses that we can give it.”

 

The IMA Foundation is another of your projects. What is it about and what is its approach?

“IMA Foundation is social gastronomy.” 

“We seek to use the cuisine as a weapon of social change, to sustain our fields, and to promote the development of small local producers. My focus with IMA is to request and elevate our gastronomic heritage, and to contribute to the development of small rural communities. So, they can take advantage of what the environment offers them and can use that they produce innovatively.”

 

 

In September 2019, you gave a conference called How the Cuisine Transformed my Life. Tell me how cuisine transformed your life?

“The cuisine is really powerful and can change lives. Thanks to it I have met people and amazing places. The cuisine has made me a woman of character with a big vision, and appreciation of my origins.”

 

You are a jury member of MasterChef DR. What are the main qualities and competencies that a cook has to do to win? Is it just cooking better than others or you consider something else?

“It’s a whole set. We take the creativity, the initiative, and the product handling into consideration. It is not only cooking but that the dishes have a good flavor and creative, with interesting mixtures, that the flavors don’t compete but that each one of the flavors is taken full advantage, that they have technique management and that each dish has a concept.”

“Has to be a charismatic person with a strong and define personality. Someone that really loves to cook and feels passion. A person who is going to devote himself to cooking, since he should get the most out of the awards. Someone who has the wish to continue growing and who wants to stand out in the culinary field.”

 

Thank you so much, Tita. It was a pleasure!

 

By Yareli Parra