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At home with chef Luis Antopia

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

Luis Antopia, executive chef of Café Cortina in Farmington Hills, was raised by his grandparents in Walled Lake and their history influenced his cooking, he said.

Luis Antopia, executive chef at Cafe Cortina, with his Paella del mar and his daughters Mia, center, and Sofia at their home in Walled Lake, December 19, 2016. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)

“My abuela was from Spain and my grandfather was from Mexico. He trained horses and would come home for breakfast by 7 a.m. and I would help her cook it,” the chef said. “My first cooking memory is helping her make bread when I was around 12 years old.”

While still attending Walled Lake Central High School, Antopia worked at Red, Hot and Blue and On the Border, both in Novi. And then, after graduation, he toyed with the idea of becoming a professional racquetball player.

“At that time my father was considered the second-best racquetball player in the whole world and I decided to participate in a U.S.A. Open racquetball tournament in Chicago. Out of 30 players in the competition, I ended up being the 10th-best. It was an honor, but I realized my passion was really to be a chef,” he said.

Antopia subsequently enrolled at Schoolcraft Culinary College and received his Associates Degree from there in 2012. While attending Schoolcraft, he participated in a three-week boot camp program at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and also worked as an intern under the tutelage of Chef Jeff Jedko, who was the executive chef at O’Tooles restaurant in Waterford.

“It was Jed who taught me how to cook Italian food,” he said.

In 2013, after graduating from Schoolcraft and while working at O’Tooles as their executive chef, Antopia was offered an opportunity to work at Café Cortina through a client of his wife, Holly, who is a hairstylist.

“I started at Café Cortina as a sous chef cooking alongside Jeff Hoffman, one of the best chefs around. After five months he passed me the crown. I never expected it to happen that fast and I have to say that each new opportunity has brought a set of challenges and it has been exciting to overcome them and to continue to evolve as both a chef and a person. I love my job and when it gets busy I enjoy it the most. I love the adrenalin and the power of controlling what’s going on. It’s an honor to work here,” the 31-year-old said.

Luis Antopia, executive chef of Café Cortina in Farmington Hills, was raised by his grandparents in Walled Lake and their history influenced his cooking, he said.

The Walled Lake resident said he cooks at home two nights a week for his wife, Holly, and his daughters Sofia, 4, and Mia, 2.

“I learned a lot about cooking from my Grandma. She made paella a lot. My girls love the rice part, but prefer it with chicken rather than seafood,” he said. “Grandma also liked to make sopas. They were a favorite of my grandfather and now Holly loves them, too.”

Adds Antopia: “Flan Napolitano is my brother Christian’s favorite dessert. I make it for him every year on his birthday.”

For this popular dessert, which originated in Spain, Antopia combines a rich custard made with sweetened condensed and evaporated milk with a caramel sauce made from sugar and eggs. According to Spanish native Felix Meana, currently the chef of Curate restaurant in Ashville, North Carolina, those are the traditional ingredients. “It’s a taboo to mess with flan,” Meana says. “Here people sometimes go around flavoring it with mint and other things, but that would not happen in Spain.”

Gambas Al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup butter

4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)

Pinch of fresh flat leaf chopped parsley

In a wide, shallow sauté pan over high heat, warm the olive oil and the butter. Add the shrimp and garlic and sauté quickly for about 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Adjust seasonings to your liking. Transfer to a warmed serving dish, sprinkle with the parsley, garnish with lemon wedges and serve at once. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 230 calories; 18 g fat (6 g saturated fat; 70 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 168 mg cholesterol; 254 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Abuela Sopes Shells with Salsa Verde and Refried Beans

For the refried beans

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

1/4 medium sized onion, chopped

1 can black beans, drained

1/2 cup water

1 small handful cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Kosher salt

To prepare the beans, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until shimmering. Add onions and stir frequently until softened, but not browned. Add beans and 1/2 cup water. Cook until heated through, about four minutes. Then use a potato masher to mash the beans until desired consistency. Season with salt, cover and set aside in a warm place.

For the salsa verde

10 tomatillos, husks and stems removed

2 garlic cloves

4-5 jalapeño or serrano peppers, stem and seeds removed

1/2 small white onion, skin removed, split in half

1 bunch fresh picked cilantro leaves and tender stems

Kosher salt to taste

1 avocado, cut in small pieces

To prepare the salsa verde, combine tomatillos and peppers in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until vegetables are completely softened, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure all sides are softened. Then drain vegetables and transfer to a blender. Add cilantro, onion, garlic cloves and a large pinch of salt. Blend on medium speed until a chunky puree is formed, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl. Place avocado pieces on the top.

For the sope shells

1 pound instant masa (maseca)

2 cups warm water

1 tablespoon salt

1 1/2 quarts vegetable or canola oil

To prepare the shells, combine instant masa with salt and warm water according to the package directions. Mix with your hands until a smooth dough is formed. Divide dough into 12 balls. Using your fingertips against a wooden board, gently flatten each ball into a disk about 1/4-inch thick and 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Carefully form a little lip around the edge of the disks with your fingertips.

Heat the oil in a large wok or deep cast iron skillet to 350 degrees. Add the sope shells one at a time until they are all in the oil. Cook carefully, turning occasionally, until shells are golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer with tongs to a paper towel-lined plate. Season with salt immediately.

Finally, divide bean mixture evenly on top of sope shells and drizzle with sour cream. Then top with chopped onions, cilantro, queso fresco and salsa verde. Serves 6.

Per serving: 593 calories; 29 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 75 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 10 mg cholesterol; 1,544 mg sodium; 13 g protein; 11 g fiber.

Paella Del Mar

1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón dulce)

8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds (not mexican chorizo)

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced small

1 red bell pepper, diced small

2 large carrots, diced small

2 medium, ripe tomatoes, diced

1 cup of peas

2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 large pinch saffron threads

2 cups paella rice (about 1 pound)

Kosher salt

1/2 cup green Spanish olives, sliced small

6 cups chicken broth

1/2 pound calamari

16 mussels, manila clams, or a combination thereof

16 large shrimp (about 12 ounces), peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

2 medium lemons, cut into 8 wedges each, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large deep pan or skillet, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the chopped onions and carrots. Sauté for 2 minutes, then add red peppers, tomatoes, garlic and the rice and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring regularly. Now add chicken broth, saffron, smoked paprika and salt to taste. Add shrimp and cook for about 3 minutes, then add mussels or clams, Spanish chorizo and calamari. Bring to a boil and let the liquid slightly reduce, then add peas and green Spanish olives and then cover (either with a lid or tightly with foil) and cook on low heat for 20 minutes in the oven. Uncover and spread the shrimp over the rice, pushing it into the rice slightly. (Add a little water if needed.) Then cover it again and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 3-5 minutes uncovered and make sure rice is cooked. Garnish with parsley and lemon and have your favorite wine ready to accompany the paella. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 563 calories; 18 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 29 percent calories from fat); 67 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 204 mg cholesterol; 1,633 mg sodium; 32 g protein; 5 g fiber.

Flan Napolitano

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 12-ounce can evaporated milk

1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

To prepare the flan, on the day before you want to serve the dessert, melt sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until it is liquefied and golden in color. Mix frequently with a wooden spoon. Carefully pour the resulting hot syrup into a 9-inch round or square glass baking dish, turning the dish to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the condensed milk, evaporated milk and vanilla and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture into the baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for one hour. Let cool completely, then refrigerate. When ready to serve, carefully invert the flan on to a rimmed serving plate. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 449 calories; 10 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 20 percent calories from fat); 82 g carbohydrates; 82 g sugar; 100 mg cholesterol; 140 mg sodium; 9 g protein; 0 g fiber.