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Blue Corn Café: Latin-Fusion in Food and Food Culture

By Kelly Church

Blue Corn Café is a locally owned and operated Durham, NC restaurant that has a menu resembling Mexican cuisine, but is actually a Latin-fusion, pulling from styles and flavors from all over South America. At 22 years old, Danielle Rios opened the Blue Corn Café in 1997, alongside her husband Antonio, with the idea of serving up "eclectic food" to the community that didn't sacrifice quality. The duo stayed true to their roots and developed a menu with everything from fresh plantains, to picadillo, to fried calamari and steamed mussels.

"I noticed so many people ate what was put in front of them, without considering the beginning and ending source," Rios says. "It was important to my husband and I to bring food to the table that was freshly prepared, without losing its ethnic twist."

Menu items that don't sacrifice their ethnic twist include their plantains, which come with a warning on the menu- "they are habit forming!" This appetizer is served deep fried with a mango and banana dipping sauce. Blue Corn Café also has Tostones, another appetizer with refried plantains and an Andaluse dipping sauce. They also sell a plantain sampler plate for those who can't decide how they want their plantains served up. This dish has a variety of plantains and a combination of Blue Corn Café dipping sauces.

Another Blue Corn Café popular dish is the Seafood Paella, a combination of mussels, shrimp, calamari and their seasonal white fish in a lobster broth with saffron rice, zucchini, sweet peas, onions and tomatoes. The Roasted Pork Barbacoa is also a frequently ordered dish with a twist on classic barbacoa osso buco. Blue Corn Café slow roasts their pork on the bone and serve it up on a plate of charro beans, rice and steamed greens.

In addition to their extensive Latin menu, Rios prides herself on Blue Corn Café's ability to adapt and grow with the food culture. The restaurant has a deep fryer dedicated to frying foods going to customers who are gluten free. Rios says they buy high quality vegan cheese to accommodate for vegan customers. Additionally, they are now serving a dish with tempeh as the primary source of protein.

"We pride ourselves in training our servers on the needs of our community," Rios says. "We have grown with the food culture in Durham and offer so many entrees that are delicious but also created with intention of healthfulness. So, when you are dining at Blue Corn, I hope we have an effect on a person's health, both body and mind."

One of the reason's Rios honors her culture in her restaurant is their ability to bring people together. Rios says recent years have shown the United States catching up to Latin American countries by surrounding family with food and vice versa. She says other countries associate food with love and in the last 18 years she has been in the restaurant industry in the United States, she has witness firsthand a change in how people put more attention into what they eat and who they eat with.

"There is sacredness in ones food and when we love it we want to share that experience with people we love, be it, children, spouses, friends old and new," Rios says. "Family does not always mean blood relative. Sitting down to eat with family brings security and structure to a person. Food brings people together! We have that written on a board in Blue Corn."

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