Chef Aaron Rivera of Tapas 51 Beats Bobby Flay

Local chef earns bragging rights for his dish and his strategy


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Beef empanadas from Chef Rivera of Tapas 51

COURTESY ASTERISK CREATIVE

Last night, we learned that Chef Aaron Rivera can bring a little strategy to his cooking game. The chef/owner of Fort Mill's Tapas 51 restaurant appeared on an episode of Beat Bobby Flay, a popular Food Network show that pits two chefs against each other in a bid to compete against the celebrity chef himself.

Chef Rivera had to first survive a round against Louisiana chef Robert Vasquez, known for the Southwest cuisine he serves at his restaurant, Opal Basil. RIvera entered the set like a football player emerging from the tunnel, then tackled a trio of plantains that earned him the right to compete in the second round against Bobby Flay. During this first round, we learned a little about why Rivera started cooking and what ultimately brought him to the Charlotte area. The main reason for his move (and fitting for this weekend's focus): his mom.

The show's format asks the surviving chef from the first round to select a dish that both Flay and he or she must make for the second one—in just 45 minutes. Wisely, Rivera chose beef empanadas. Flay, who specializes in grilling and Southwestern cuisine, openly expressed his discomfort with anything pastry. Said judge Scott Conant said of Rivera,"We have clearly picked the right horse."

When time expired, Rivera turned out a brisket empanada with pickled onions, fresno chile salad, and a charred onion aioli. Flay's empanadas used short ribs and goat cheese for the filling and came with piquillo pepper sauce, pickled red onions, and a cilantro salad. The crust on Rivera's version involved duck fat and came out a rich golden brown, accented by a beautifully crimped edge that clearly indicated a practiced hand.

If the thought of Rivera's winning dish has your mouth watering, Tapas 51 currently offers a similar version of the beef empanada, complete with onion aioli and pickled vegetables.

Tapas 51

3415 SC-51

Fort Mill, SC 29715

803-548-1612

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