Ever thought you’d have something in common with a revolutionary-turned-dictator?
Do you like Mexican food?
Late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi loved the cuisine so much that he hired a couple of Mexican chefs.
You’ll be able to get a literal taste of the story of one of the young chefs as it plays out on stage in Indianapolis this weekend.
“Qaddafi’s Cook” (which uses an alternative spelling of the dictator’s name) runs at The District Theatre.
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The play is based on the experiences of Carlos Ambrosi, who applied for a job cooking for an unnamed diplomat. He learned upon taking the job that his boss was Gaddafi – “the world’s bloodiest foodie,” according to a website for the play.
As sous chef Freddy, actor Adrian Paredes cooks on stage and gives tastes to some audience volunteers.
But all of the audience gets in on the culinary act just before and after the production with a couple of creations from chef George Munoz, the owner of Festiva Mexican restaurant. Munoz, a son of Mexican immigrants, jumped at the invitation to recreate some of the ruler’s favorite foods.
“This is something unique. The Mexican population is growing so quickly in Indianapolis. And a lot of times we are underrepresented culturally in a lot of other ways,” he said. “I thought it’d be a great showcase to just kind of expand people’s minds about food. We know what true Mexican food is, but a lot other people don’t really understand it.”
Munoz was presented with several recipes from the chef and selected Pollo Encacahuatado, a grilled chicken and peanut sauce dish, because it was more akin with Festiva’s style of food.
He also decided to make Chile en Nogada, a dish served in Mexico on national holidays in which roasted poblano peppers are stuffed with ground meat stewed with almonds, raisins, peaches, pineapples and plantains, and the spices clove, coriander, star anise and cumin. It’s plated with a walnut cream sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds, goat cheese and cilantro to play on colors of the Mexican flag.
Many of the favors, though, are Northern African-influenced, Munoz said.
“That goes to the Moors controlling Spain for a long time and then the Spanish brought a lot of those ingredients over to Mexico,” he said. “I just wanted to kind of tie the cultures together.”
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Festiva’s participation, supported by The Kelly Wensing Community Fund, is part of an overall immersive experience at the theater.
“At The District Theatre, we provide a stage where people can tell their stories. And this is a story of immigration within the Latino community for this whole immersive experience,” said Pauline Moffat, the managing director of The District Theatre. “It features the food, it features the culture, it features the music. This is one opportunity for us to showcase the Latino culture in Indianapolis.”
The culture will be on display this weekend in other ways. Munoz is serving Pollo Encacahuatado as a special at Festiva, 1217 E. 16th St., this weekend.
Artist Gerado Mares also will have an exhibition in the District Theatre Gallery. 
Ambrosi was working in Ireland in 2007 when he learned of the job opportunity, and set off on months of interviews and tests to get the position.
“He was a lover of Mexican cuisine. He was a frequent visitor to the Cancun area and Riviera Maya,” Ambrosi said of Gaddafi during a virtual theater chat earlier this month. “He went back to Libya and said, ‘I want to have a Mexican chef in my kitchen.’ That’s the beauty of dictatorship.”
The Libyan dictator was ousted and killed by rebel forces in 2011.
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While Ambrosi was familiar with Gaddafi’s reputation for torture and abuse, he said he didn’t personally experience or witness such acts.
What he did experience, though, was fear.
“You can feel the fear working under a dictator,” he said, noting the armed guards throughout the residence. “More than seeing things, we can feel the feeling.”
 Gaddafi was not hard to please food-wise, Ambrosi said. 
“He was a simple man. It was not so simple in the amount of food that needed to be prepared or the origins of the food. But it wasn’t complicated to cook,” he said. “What was complicated was the ambiance. The armed guards outside of the kitchen.”
“It started as a wonderful job offer and ended up shaping me in the most profound way you can imagine. There were ingredients of fear and expectations.”
“Qaddafi’s Cook” will be staged Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at The District Theatre, 627 Mass Ave., Indianapolis, indydistricttheatre.org. Tickets are $15 each.
Contact IndyStar reporter Cheryl V. Jackson at cheryl.jackson@indystar.com or 317-444-6264. Follow her on Twitter:@cherylvjackson.


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