BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. June, 2012—Introducing an unfamiliar cuisine to guests takes explaining says Camelia Coupal, partner in Café Coupa in Beverly Hills and six other locations, five in Palo Alto, California, one in Caracas, Venezuela.
“We’ve had guests ask for tortilla chips and are upset that we don’t have them,” Coupal shares. Once they try the food actually on the menu, guests are immediately delighted with the tastes, familiar yet unique and different.
A Venezuelan mainstay consumed from breakfast to dinner is the arepa. The gluten-free cornmeal griddle cake makes great sandwiches which are then filled with cheese, beef, chicken salad or vegetables. The last is an American accommodation but all are delicious. Not to be missed is Cami’s—queso guayanes (soft white cheese), avocado, sweet fried plantains, nata (an addictive kind of sour cream) and guasacaca, a sauce made with avocado, garlic, oil and vinegar sauce, thinner than guacamole and a wonderful discovery.
Although most order from the Venezuelan choices, the menu at Coupa has a section called Coupa Specialties with a typical blend of salads, paninis, pasta and burgers for less adventurous diners.
Breakfast includes both American and Venezuelan items and the not to be missed coffee drinks include variations unique to the country such as guayoyo, similar to an Americano, and marron, their version of latte. Besides a variety of coffee classics, the barista menu also includes Abuela hot chocolate with Venezuelan bittersweet chocolate and Spicy Maya hot chocolate balancing hints of pasilla, cayenne peppers and cinnamon.
Just 28, Coupal moved here from Venezuela to attend Stanford University in Palo Alto where the first Coupa Café was opened eight years ago by her parents.
Coupal completed a degree in African studies and traveled there to volunteer before becoming as involved in the business. “It’s so poor but also magical,” she says.
During her time there, she lived as they do, without electricity or water and often with only rice to eat. Compared to Africa she says, even the poorest in Venezuela have plentiful food and basics.
She continues to support orphans there by visiting, teaching and providing needed supplies.
Her parents now run the coffee roasting part of the business in Caracas and ship directly to California the only Venezuelan “shade grown, handpicked, patio sun-dried, super fair trade, organic, single-estate Arabica coffee beans roasted in small batches.”
According to Coupal, Venezuela’s current leader Chavez makes it difficult for growers to export their justifiably famous coffee or even profitable enough to grow. Their company works directly with coffee farmers in Venezuela and 12-ounce bags are available on their site for $10 to $17. Her website or cafes are the only place to get Venezuelan coffee stateside.
Coupal’s time is divided with a week or so in Beverly Hills and the rest of the month in Palo Alto. She’s responsible for all aspects of the business, from purchasing to administration.
“Our food is not a cuisine and the gourmet side is minimal. It’s rice, beans, corn and plantains,” Coupa said. They also love BBQ and meat. The national dishPabellón is comprised of shredded beef, black beans, sweet fried plantains, arepitas, nata and queso blanco.
Another traditional dish on the menu is Polvorosa de pollo. This distinctive version of chicken potpie comes in a shortbread style crust filled with a sweet-savory mix of shredded chicken, raisins, tomatoes, onions and spices.
Share an order of the Degustación for a generous mix of Venezuelan appetizers. The dish includes mini empanadas filled with meat or cheese, fried mini arepas with chicken salad, mini cachapas, and maracuchitos. The cachapas are corn pancakes made with grated fresh corn so sweet and fresh they’re a revelation.
Tequeños are always at parties, which is exactly what you’d expect from white cheese sticks wrapped in dough and deep fried. The maracuchitos are plantain-wrapped hard cheese that are also fried. Coupal faced a challenge finding the right cheese to use—several melted away during cooking—but has succeeded now for an irresistible sweet/salty bite.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.