Since February, Manuel Torres, the owner of Culturas Tapas Restaurant, and Chadwick Smith, the head chef, have been attempting to update the cuisine in the Lancaster area and bring to it a new and a modern flare that has certainly been lacking.
Native to Peru, Torres started this venture with two chefs from Peru and Smith to create a menu of blended ethnicities.
“I’m a chef myself and I wanted to do something different and unique,” said Torres.
According to Torres, getting people away from the stereotypical idea of Latino food involving mostly tacos and burritos was one of his reasons for creating Culturas.
Culturas, the newest addition to El Serrano’s family of restaurants, is located on the second floor of El Serrano at 2151 Columbia Avenue in Lancaster, only about five minutes from Millersville University.
The architecture and décor of the restaurant provide quite an authentic Peruvian dining experience.
The maze-like corridors are reminiscent of a medieval castle; one would expect secret entrances and passageways to open at the tug of a candleholder mounted on the wall. The furnishings, many of which were flown in from Peru, also aid in facilitating an authentic experience for the restaurant’s patrons.
The menu at Culturas is very diversified. Customers are free to choose from an array of dishes such as the 12-ounce filet mignon served with sautéed baby spinach, rosemary-crusted fingerling potatoes and Diablo sauce to the Pulp al Olivo, thinly sliced octopus with a black olive sauce. There are various vegetarian dishes such as the Torrejas, a white rice cake and a vegetable rice cake with tomato, zucchini, red pepper and yellow squash, for customers who are so inclined.
“Every time I go in there it seems that the menu has changed since the last time,” said Andrew Kuster, banquet chef for Franklin and Marshall College. “He really seems to have a knack for pairing different flavors.”
“Our flavors are completely unique because no one has them,” said Torres.
According to the Culturas menu, “Tapas is not a particular type of food. Anything can be tapas- paella, croquettes, ham and cheese on toast, truly anything. As long as it is small and served with your drink, it is tapas.”
“It’s a unique way of doing it,” said Torres.
Tapas allows customers to taste more than one dish.
Smith’s culinary repertoire is essentially European fused with aspects of Caribbean, Thai, and South American cuisine.
“Tapas is the perfect medium for me to display my talents; it’s really a big tasting menu put together by the chef,” said Smith.
According to Smith, the average customer orders about four or five plates at each meal so they are certainly exposed to a number of different foods and methods for preparing them.
Smith has been a part of the food service industry for nine and one half years and received his formal training from York Technical Institute. He also spent four months studying under Chef James King of Ocean Grill, which is located on Amelia Island in Florida.
“You can pretty much be a drone as you go through school, but eventually there’s that one chef that gives you a spark; for me it was Chef James King,” said Smith.
The kitchen in Culturas is known as an open-air kitchen which allows customers to hear, see and smell what is going on inside while their food is being prepared.
“It’s basically a showcase for our guests,” said Smith.
Smith said that his demeanor in the kitchen is relatively laid back, and the only time he gets aggravated is when the food doesn’t appear on the customer’s table on time.
Catering Sous Chef for Franklin and Marshall College George Hasara Jr., a friend and colleague of Smith’s who has worked with him in the kitchen, said that Smith seems to maintain an even balance between professionalism and levity. But when the pressure is on, he is very fast and his demeanor becomes incredibly stern.
The quality of Smith’s cuisine is actually responsible for a modest fan- following which has developed over the past few months.
“The food’s incredible and the plating, atmosphere, and service would make you think you ought to be paying much more for what you’re receiving,” said Derek Boyer, a frequent patron of Culturas.
Smith is now anticipating a trip to Spain so he can learn some new techniques in order to increase the scope of his culinary knowledge. There is no doubt that it will be his customers who benefit.
While some MU students have had the good fortune to hear about Culturas and sample its cuisine, many students have not due to it not being well-known.
“Most Millersville students don’t know about us because we’re not as well established,” said Joshua Becker, manager of Culturas.