in retrospect, the amazing thing about Edwin Gallardo’s inspiration for his 2016 Chocolate Lovers Showcase Savory Award-winner wasn’t the subtle genius that hybridized the deep, complex flavors of duck confit with the richness of dark chocolate and the bright notes of citrus.
Rather, it was an impulse universally recognizable to just about anyone who has ever found him or herself hungry on a city sidewalk, usually sometime after midnight on a weekend.
“Really, I was craving for tacos,” Gallardo remembers.
The humble taco: Neither the most celebrated nor the most romantic of culinary traditions. Yet even in its simplest street-food guise, it satisfies. Dressed up with quality ingredients and creative touches? Sublime. And when it surprises? Transcendent.
So how did this sublime, transcendant taco come to be. There’s Gallardo, local culinary star and Executive Chef at Seven Stars resort, craving tacos on a winter day on Grace Bay, prowling a resort kitchen. His eyes flit across some duck in the chiller, and rather than continuing to browse, a mental light bulb flicks on.
“So I thought, ‘Let me do some duck,’” he said. “And since the Chocolate Lovers was coming up very soon, I decided to make a bit of chocolate sauce. So you could say I made the dish out of the cravings.”
The resulting dish not only brought together powerful and beloved tastes, but fused culinary traditions from Europe, Asia, South and Central America. There’s the quintessentially French duck confit. The South American cacao. Tortillas from Mexico. Mandarin Orange from China. You’d almost expect as much from a globe-hopping Philippino chef with career-building stops in Hong Kong and Johannesburg.
Consider the ingredients. First comes the toasted soft-shell taco with shredded lettuce. Then there’s confit duck, slow-cooked with cabernet sauvignon, celery, onion, bay leaf. “I added a bit of unsweetened cacao and a bottle of Chardonnay,” Gallardo said. “After that, you pull the duck.”
Caramelize a salsa made from fresh peaches, cilantro, chili flakes and shallots. Then assemble the taco, and top it with a chocolate sauce blending 70 percent dark chocolate and 30 percent Mandarin Orange juice. Gallardo called it “a very simple, enjoyable dish.”
That’s not to say the idea exactly sold itself.
“For the first time, when they see it was duck and chocolate, they are always hesitant,” Gallardo said. “I always try to convince them to give it a try. Once they try it, they always come back.”
The winner was Gallardo’s first entry in the contest, a February fixture on Providenciales’ cultural calendar for the past six years. It’s his second entry in a local festival – he won an award in the most recent Conch Festival as well – and he’s enjoying his current hot streak. “We joined simply to have fun and I didn’t really expect that we would be getting an award. It was satisfying for me, and I was very proud of my team.”
Gallardo and his crew operate two restaurants at Seven Stars: The Deck and Seven. Seven is the more contemporary and formal of the two, combining Mediterranean and Asian flavors in a culinary tradition with its roots in the rustic. The Deck is on the beach, and features a more casual style. In both venues, Gallardo is letting his Asian heritage influence what comes to the table.
The award-winning Duck Taco in Mandarin Orange Chocolate Sauce is a great example of that idea. It’s a popular menu item at The Deck, and available at the bar at Seven as well.
“(The Showcase) was fun,” Gallardo said. “It was a very great experience as well.”