Richard Sandoval’s Zengo launched a Test Kitchen series last fall to explore different cuisines. The most recent promotion focused on Argentina and the Philippines. Four plates are featured, including a starter of Filipino Lumpia Spring Rolls with a Latin twist. The items appear with a “TK” symbol on the menu.
Every three months, Sandoval and the chefs at Zengo’s four locations develop recipes featuring the cuisine and spirits of one Latin and one Asian country. “We reinterpret and modernize dishes, adding new elements and flavors,” says Graham Bartlett, chef de cuisine at the Washington, D.C., Zengo.
No mistaken identity
Although Filipino food is not as mainstream as other global cuisines, “lumpia are the most recognized item,” Bartlett feels. The cooking process is pretty traditional—thin pancakes enclose a filling of chopped cooked chicken and shrimp—but the Zengo version adds ground cumin and fresh oregano for an Argentinian accent.
Taking a fresh dip
The lumpia are served with a sweet-sour dipping sauce made from scratch at each location. “We cook down fresh pineapple with sweet chile sauce and chopped red jalapeño, then add lemon, lime and vinegar for acid notes,” Bartlett explains.
Not too wild
In the Philippines, Asian fish sauce is used in the dip, but the team felt it was a bit too funky. “We wanted to make the dish easy for guests to interpret and identify,” adds the chef. That strategy worked—the lumpia are the most talked-about item on this menu.
Zengo works with an Asian supplier to source imports—including the lumpia wrappers. These would be very labor-intensive to make in-house.
Next two stops on the culinary tour: Singapore/San Salvador and Hong Kong/San Juan.