Dec 15, 2016

What is Cuban Food?

in category Cuban Food

As many Cuban Americans living in NYC would attest to, finding authentic Cuban food was not that easy.  These restaurants so often felt the need to fetishize the décor with overly kitsch memorabilia (an abundance of Cuban flags, pictures of Cuban scenery painted all over the walls, and a gentleman rolling cigars in the corner). Their menus so often included chips and guacamole and tacos. You would also fine that ubiquitous corn rolled in mayo, Cojita cheese, and chillies is NOT at all Cuban, and I’ve never seen on a menu in any Cuban restaurant in Miami. I felt strongly that there was a serious need for some classically prepared Cuban food, food that honored the tradition and history of Cuban food culture and ingredients, and took seriously its roots. We set out to honor classic Cuban cuisine by understanding its roots, and how they came to be, while at the same time elevating and modernizing it. 

In my cooking style for the restaurant, I try to incorporate as many Cuban ingredients as possible, while staying away from foreign influences.  Our food, and the food discussed here, is not trendy, it’s not fusion, and it’s not gourmet. Rather, it’s comfort food that’s executed with the best ingredients, cooking techniques, and with the goal of making the best expression of each dish. Our goal is always to make the quintessential bowl of black beans, or plate of Arroz con Pollo, or the perfect croquette.

In my own recipes for our restaurant, I begin from this vantage point, but have also tried to imagine how Cuban cuisine would have evolved without the effects of the U.S. Cuban embargo, which dramatically limited the ingredients the Cuban people had access to. Thus, in Cuba, many dishes have disappeared, and many new adaptations have emerged.  And in Miami and South Florida more generally, the evolution of Cuban food has typically taken the form of Nuevo Latino cuisine with pioneering chefs like Douglass Rodrigues and Norman Van Aken, creating incredible, pan-Latin food the brings together an array of ingredients and styles from across Miami and Latin America. However, there has been very little new and modern efforts to revitalize the old classics, such as Ropa Vieja, a stew of shredded beef with onions, peppers, and a tomato and beef stock base, often adorned with olives and asparagus.

For each dish, I’ve looked at dozens of different recipes, and I try to provide the most quintessential version of dishes, while still discussing variations, weather regional or personal.

This journal is the vehicle I’m using to promote my passion for Cuban cuisine. In this journal,  I provide the recipes and procedures that have emerged from seven years of research and of constantly testing and tweaking different recipes and spins, based on personal preference and ample customer opinion, often Cuban and with very strong opinions about how something Cuban should taste like.