Top Chef Masters alum Franklin Becker opens his pan-regional Latin American restaurant La Central in the Hotel Americano in Chelsea today — and though the chef is fairly well known, the menu here will centered around dishes created by members of the kitchen team, inspired by food they grew up with.
Becker explains that because the hotel’s owners are from Mexico City, the original idea was to bring a Mexican restaurant to the space, located next to the High Line at 518 West 27th St.
But when he started assembling the kitchen team and saw the diversity of cultures that they brought to the table, he switched gears. He asked his team to make dishes from their homes, including different regions of Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Chile, and throughout South and Central America.
“Oftentimes, [kitchen staffers] just become a product of the kitchen that they’re working in,” he says. “They’re repeating what the chef’s vision is, but they’re never necessarily putting in their own selves into the mix, other than family meal where they get to show off from time to time. So this is an opportunity for them to actually bring the culture to the forefront.”
As such, personal touches from the entire kitchen team pepper the menu. Meals kick off with chips served with four salsas, made in-house by line cook Lucero Gutierrez based on her hometown of Jalisco, Mexico and recipes handed down from her great grandmother. Another line cook, Roberto Martinez, makes enchiladas named after him on the menu, with smokier salsa verde from his hometown of Puebla, Mexico.
Junior sous chef Marco Castro, from Peru, contributes a Peruvian fried rice dish known as arroz chaufa, made at La Central with duck confit. On the raw bar menu, there’s also Peruvian-style ceviche in addition to a ceviche influenced by Acapulco, Mexico. Pupusas, from Ecuadorian chef de cuisince Carlos Cartagena, will change seasonally, opening with winter squash and mushrooms.
And the pastry chef Cesar Moreno, from Jalisco, has come up with a play on churros turned into waffles. They’re deep fried and tossed in cinnamon and sugar, served with a goat’s milk ice cream, dulce de leche, and salted pecans.
Becker, meanwhile, leads the team, primarily tinkering with the flavors and plating.
“I oversaw and modified what was necessary, but there wasn’t much movement that was needed beyond plating and maybe a few grains of salt here and there,” he says.
In addition to the raw bar, table shares, and appetizers, there’s a menu of tacos, including duck, pork, cod, cauliflower, and cheese variations. Mains include an arbol-spiced chicken and a skirt steak with chimichurri. Then there’s a “for two” section of the menu that Becker says is more like a “for two plus.” Everything is intended to be shared.
“I want to encourage people to weave in and out of the menu from country to country,” Becker says.
La Central’s beverage program was helmed by Michael Parish of Broken Shaker and focuses on tequila, mezcal, cachaça, and pisco. Cocktails feature fruits and vegetables, as with the Smoke & Fire, made with cachaça, charred pineapple, and tajin-cured lime, or the Doctor’s Order, made with mezcal, tequila, and carrots.
Later in the year, Hotel Americano will introduce a rooftop space and underground cocktail bar, also overseen by Becker. The cocktail bar will focus on tequila and mezcal and will be thematically influenced by Día de los Muertos. As for the rooftop, food isn’t set yet, but the space will evoke “relaxed, beachy” vibes of places like Tulum, he says.
The restaurant has space for 50 inside, as well as a year-round heated patio that seats 35. It features marble tables and lots of black with pops of yellow.
La Central opens for dinner today and will be open Sunday through Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight. Starting on January 17, lunch will be served on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m, and breakfast and weekend brunch will roll out later in the month.