Since planting her roots in San Antonio in 2008 as a Latin cuisine specialist at the Culinary Institute of America, chef-instructor Elizabeth Johnson has helped throngs of budding chefs flourish in her craft.
Collaborating with area farmers and the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Johnson redefined “locally grown” when she founded the Latin Seed Research Program in 2009 and began cultivating specialty Latin produce stateside that was unavailable commercially.
In 2012, she helped conceptualize and launch the student-run restaurant NAO, adjacent to the school in the Pearl Brewery. Fusing indigenous ingredients and time-tested techniques from south of the border, diners can expect an authentic ethnic experience that’s ever-changing with an eclectic menu that rotates regularly between Latin countries while utilizing the seasonal Texas bounty.
This spring, her latest contribution to San Antonio’s culinary landscape is sprouting up in the Mahncke Park neighborhood on the edge of Brackenridge Park at Broadway Street and East Mulberry Avenue.
Taking her expertise beyond the costly corridors of the CIA, she’s created Crave Market – a retail “classroom” where customers will be empowered with “tech knowledgeable” iOS tools to guide them through the store, pinpointing where to go and what to eat based on present-day symptoms and side-effects.
Crave Market’s "21st century convenience store” concept will offer grab-and-go gourmet meals where Latin-food lovers will enjoy healthier takes on classic fare from vegetarian tamales made with super foods like quinoa, pumpkin, popped amaranth, and chunky salsa to atoles – delightful drinking porridges that originated in Mexico.
A salad bar case will blend chef-prepared selections and highlight the desert terroir of Texas with an area focused on foraging and edible weeds. “We will be showcasing ingredients in a way that gives people new ideas on how to eat, using proper nutrition to alleviate problems,” Johnson said.
Paramount in this problem-fighting is a selection of bottled 8-ounce potions, made by artfully blending hydraulic-pressed juices according to the principles of Ayurvedic medicine. Her recipe for wellness is not a quick-fix juice detox, rather, incorporating one to two juices daily as part of a rounded diet.
Between two and half and three pounds of produce are used in every serving of these principally vegetable-based beverages. For satiety without the sugar high, no tropical fruit should be juiced, “People should be eating tropical fruit, not drinking it!” Johnson explained. Many flavor profiles have a base of carrot and orange, with ginger and lemon for kick. “Nutritional synergy” and nectarous finish is achieved using dates instead of sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Recently named the chief purveyor of a new farm-to-table hospital concept in nearby New Braunfels with a growing roster of corporate clients, Johnson has offered San Antonio locals and online customers a head start on the healing benefits in advance of her spring store opening.
Besides being hailed by Texas tastemakers as beneficial beverages, Crave Market juices are kitchen companions that can help a home chef create restaurant-worthy fare in a flash. Use as a mise en place for plating with panache or mix them into sauces for a boost in both nutrition and flavor. Here's a great recipe to get you started: Johnson's classic Peruvian tiradito made with Crave Market's celery juice!