Twenty-three degrees north of the Equator lies the Tropic of Cancer, a line named more than 2,000 years ago. From Algeria to the Bahamas, Bangladesh to Mali, the line encircles the globe. Chef Brandi Key of Clark Cooper Concepts used that particular latitude as inspiration for this year's SaltAir Chef Series. Last year, the event lasted 12 weeks and hopped between coastal regions with abandon. This year, the series is more focused: It lasts just five weeks and adheres to the more restrictive confines of the Tropic of Cancer.
Each Tuesday through Saturday beginning today, Key and her team will focus on a different cuisine with a four-course menu. The first, which begins today and runs through June 3, is focused on the cuisine of Baja California Sur, a favorite culinary travel destination for Key. She begins the meal with an amuse bouche of sparklingly fresh shrimp ceviche served atop a colorful tostada. Clams are roasted and filled with onion butter, tomato and cilantro, and a side of tangy hot sauce. A tamal of fresh corn and masa, filled with delicate pulled chicken gives way to a whole grilled fish that's marinated in chile and soy, a hint of the Asian settlers in the region. Diners stuff the crispy fish in lush homemade flour tortillas with heirloom tomatoes and black beans. Key says she chose to keep things simple with a dessert of intense vanilla ice cream served with fried dough tossed in cinnamon and sugar.
Diners at the meals are presented with a passport, which lists each of the menus for the series. Those who stop in every week will be treated to a delicious surprise at their final visit. It's hard to resist becoming a regular: The week of June 6, Key is fulfilling a longtime wish of preparing Hawaiian cuisine, including tuna poke nachos, a Korean chicken plate lunch and laulau pork. The following week, China's Guangdong province receives the chef's treatment with steamed ginger fish and chile-salt crispy duck with green onion pancakes. The Gujarati cuisine of India is a vegetarian affair that centers around a nine-item thali. The last week, June 27-July 1, focuses on American travelers' newest destination, Cuba. Key will serve up her version of classic ropa vieja, along with pork ribs in Cuban mojo and shrimp in Creole sauce.
Surprise or no, there are sure to be plenty of armchair travelers eager to fill their passports.