This is Asado Grilling 101, chef Victor Albisu’s chance to be both lecturer and hands-on teaching assistant during monthly classes at the South American grill in Penn Quarter.
On a sunny September Saturday, our tailgating-themed syllabus calls for Albisu to show his pupils how to make fresh chorizo, grilled skirt steak roulade with burnt onion chimichurri, burned (on purpose) vegetables, beef heart skewers and more.
These are dishes, Albisu explains, “that are great for fall entertaining, whether you’re tailgating at FedEx Field or watching a futbol match at home.” Del Campo servers circulate plates of smoked peanuts, olives and, oh yes, plenty of sangria, as the chef stuffs sausage casings with freshly ground pork butt and slathers skirt steaks in Dijon mustard and grated Parmesan for 60 appetite-spiking minutes.
Could I imagine myself making these while hovering over a portable charcoal grill in a stadium parking lot? Perhaps once a season, assuming the prep work was done in advance.
But the $90 fee for the class was worth it to learn the same techniques for home — not to mention the seemingly endless convoy of dishes participants sit for after the demonstration.
Albisu has been leading cooking classes at his restaurants since his time as executive chef at BLT Steak. At Del Campo, which he opened in April, each monthly asado grilling class adopts a different theme. On Oct. 5, Albisu and mixologist JP Caceres will teach Latin American street food and cocktails.
Albisu is passionate about street food, and the excitement in his voice picks up as a conversation about Del Campo’s lunchtime street-food menu, which includes a pork-belly-and-sweet-potato pan con chicharon sandwich from Peru and a mountainous chivito from Uruguay, adopts a geopolitical bent. (This is Washington, after all.)
“When you think about street food from a more macro or Latin American perspective, from the top of Mexico down to the tip of South America, you kind of do every culture a little bit of a disservice,” says Albisu, who double-degreed in government and politics and international relations at George Mason University, with a focus on South America and Europe. “There’s a lot of pork in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, so that’s something that’s very respected. Beef is much more prevalent in Argentina or Uruguay, just because of the pastures that are there.”
Americans often think of street food as a lower-cost alternative to a proper sit-down meal, something to grab on the go or after a night out. That’s not the case in many parts of Central and South America, where socioeconomic factors wipe out any possible discrepancy.
“The major differences in South American street food is what’s available to them. The chivito [a sandwich that starts with seared rib-eye, two kinds of ham, a fried egg, olives and other savories] is actually the national dish of Uruguay,” Albisu says. “That’s really much more of a source of pride because it’s an abundant sandwich. Peru: anticuchos [skewers of often less-desirable cuts] and chicharones, completely different flavor profiles.”
During the Oct. 5 class, expect lessons on those dishes, plus seviche, Argentine choripan sandwiches, empanadas and classic cocktails such as the pisco sour. The Nov. 9 class covers vegetables, breads and cheeses. And both classes are followed by perhaps the most filling final exam you’ve ever sat for.