San Antonio’s unique culinary culture has been recognized throughout the world for years, but the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization gave the city another gastronomical honor Tuesday when it accepted San Antonio among its worldwide Creative Cities Network as a designated Creative City of Gastronomy.

San Antonio was among several U.S. cities applying for the honor this year, said Chef Johnny Hernandez, who helped guide the city’s application, and now joins Tucson as the only U.S. cities with the designation.

“We want to share our food and dynamic culture with the world,” Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said, citing the city’s “friendly, welcoming environment” that “originates at our dining room tables.”

Hernandez took the podium to thank a long list of city officials, culinary entrepreneurs, and organizations, who worked together to guide San Antonio’s application through the two-year process.

“An exciting day for our city, and great day for our culinary community,” said Hernandez, who has built an international network of restaurants that grew from his original La Gloria.

Chef Johnny Hernandez picks produce from his home garden. Photo by Scott Ball.
Chef Johnny Hernandez picks produce from his home garden. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

What made San Antonio’s application stand out was its mix of culinary cultures, stretching back thousands of years, said Chef Elizabeth Johnson, whose restaurant Acequia is slated for a 2019 opening in La Villita Historic Arts Village.

“San Antonio food history goes back about 11,000 years,” Johnson said, citing continuous habitation and agricultural development in the area that provided an indigenous food culture unique in the nation.

Long ago, prickly pear was a staple among area tribes, she said, along with mesquite bean, wild maize, bison, venison, squashes, pecans and agorita berries. All of these ingredients can be found in the innovative dishes of local chefs, some of which were sampled during the news conference at Plaza de Armas.

Becoming a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy “will once again put the limelight on San Antonio,” Hernandez said, “not only for our rich heritage, but the deep-rooted food community that we are today, that makes us unique and different from every city in the country.”

The recognition will attract even more tourists who visit the city annually, an estimated 34.4 million, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

This designation is not diminished by the Trump administration’s plans to withdraw from UNESCO in December 2018, Nirenberg said. “I think it’s important for communities in the world to recognize that we live in a global society, that we are connected as citizens to people in different places.”

Nirenberg just returned from trips to Israel and Germany during which a delegation of local leaders engaged in cultural, trade, and diplomatic missions.

“It’s important for me as a civic leader … to foster policy that connects us with the world,” he said, “isolationism is never good policy.”

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...