In the introduction to San Antonio Cooks, author Julia Celeste Rosenfeld manages to distill San Antonio’s more than 300-year culinary and cultural mélange in just a few paragraphs.
Layers of indigenous planting techniques, Canary Islanders arriving with exotic seeds in their pockets alongside German and Polish families, and Spaniards with their centuries-old irrigation techniques and meat-centric feasts are equally represented. All of these people’s influence on one another makes San Antonio and its cuisine distinct.
Featuring 84 recipes from 42 local chefs, restaurants and bars, Rosenfeld’s new cookbook invites home cooks to try their hand at whipping up local favorites in their own kitchens.
“My goal was to showcase and celebrate San Antonio’s diverse culinary scene and dispel the myth that we’re only a Tex-Mex and BBQ town,” said Rosenfeld. “While those heritage cuisines are done exceptionally well here, we have grown beyond them and encompass a broader range of choices now, more than ever before.”
Rosenfeld has been covering San Antonio’s culinary arts for over 40 years, 14 of those at San Antonio Magazine. The project San Antonio Cooks initially began in 2019 as part of an international series that celebrates cities of culinary distinction. It was temporarily halted by COVID-19, then resumed in 2021. Rosenfeld’s kitchen was being renovated when the project resumed, so it wasn’t until four months later that she began testing recipes.
“It was a joy to break in my new kitchen that way and to invite neighbors and friends to share the experience,” she said.
Rosenfeld cooked the majority of the recipes in the book, with each chef also testing their recipes.
“I talked through possible recipes with each one of [the chefs],” she said. “I generally know their menus and the standout dishes, but the goal was to make the recipes represent their restaurant while being accessible to home cooks.”
Some recipes are simple, said Rosenfeld, while others are better suited to experienced, patient home cooks and bakers. “But I always say, if you can read and follow instructions, you can cook.’’
The range of culinary traditions presented in San Antonio Cooks certainly proves that San Antonio has evolved well beyond meat on a stick and funnel cakes. From local staples like Mi Tierra and Liberty Bar to Bruce Auden’s much-lauded Biga on the Banks, Rosenfeld pays particular attention to those who are breaking new ground.
Moroccan Bites Tagine is run by a family from Morocco who moved to San Antonio from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They cook with halal meats and techniques and have been featured on “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
“They’re absolutely packed during Ramadan, as well as throughout the year with regulars of all backgrounds,” said Rosenfeld.
Chefs Latifa Ghafai, Wafa El Maroudi and Nadia El Maroudi contributed recipes for two of the restaurant’s popular dishes, Lamb Shanks with Prunes and Meshoui.
Also included is a recipe for Crispy Cebiche Dos Texturas by Chef Geronimo Lopez of Botika, the restaurant that introduced Nikkei and Chifa Peruvian cuisines to San Antonio. “Those fusion foods are now hot-hot-hot everywhere,” said Rosenfeld.
In her more than 40 years in San Antonio, Rosenfeld said she has seen several attempts at a true northeast diner with a Jewish deli bent fail. Max & Louie’s New York Diner, another featured restaurant in San Antonio Cooks, was the exception.
“They are crushing it by delivering quality, quantity and authenticity,” she said. “There’s always a line and only one taco on the menu.”
Let’s be clear: Rosenfeld has nothing against tacos. She is simply of the mind that, like cities, food evolves. San Antonio Cooks shows how the city’s evolution is driven by diversity — by the influx of new people, their ideas and traditions.