Erma Orofino, a senior real estate broker with Douglas Elliman, lives in East Hampton.
Were you always interested in food? I grew up in Queens. My dad would walk to H-Mart from his house. I still love shopping at all of the Asian grocery stores there. I have terrible eyesight but have always had an exceptional sense of smell. I can taste something and tell you exactly what’s in it, and I’ve learned to duplicate it.
What place does cooking have in your life today? I have three passions: Travel, real estate and cooking. Travel has exposed me to all kinds of cooking. Every time I go somewhere, I always pick up a weird ingredient. When I was in Israel, I brought back za’atarherbal seasoning before anyone here had heard of it. Real estate always introduced me to people from other countries. As we got to know each other, we’d talk about kids, pets and food. What we ate last, what we felt like eating next. My cooking style is extremely influenced by my travels and the people that I meet. On vacation, somebody will say, ‘Let’s go for a hike,’ and I’ll say, “I want to find spices in the local supermarket first.’
What are some of your specialties? I do a roasted tofu with cashew-coconut sauce that people can’t believe is dairy-free and meat-free. I use the spices I picked up in the Middle East, plus lemon grass. My best friend is married to a well-known Indonesian chef. I make stuff that makes him proud. My Indonesian ribs, for example. I rub the ribs with garlic, salt, coriander, cumin and white pepper and let them sit. Then I cover them with a wet sauce made with tamarind, tomato, Worcestershire and ketchup. I slow-roast them and then finish them on the grill.
Where does this recipe come from? I vacation often in Mexico, and the flavors come from Baja. I took a cooking class in Baja with a local chef. He taught me how to toast the spices on a coal, a cast-iron stovetop grill. The flavors in this chicken come from that experience. I like to entertain. Nine times out of 10, people will ask me to make Cabo Chicken. It turns a brilliant red. The tamarind glaze gives it that sweet, sour, crusty coating.
Can you make this chicken on the grill in the summer? Yes. I put the whole marinated chicken over a beer can, and place it in a roasting pan with potatoes and onions, and put the pan on the grill. It’s great with rice and beans, and an avocado, corn and tomato salad.