The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
What most inspired you to forge a career in the culinary world? I come from a family of great cooks, fishermen, and artisans. I grew up with a passion for cooking. What things come to mind when
What most inspired you to forge a career in the culinary world?
I come from a family of great cooks, fishermen, and artisans. I grew up with a passion for cooking.
What things come to mind when you think of Cuban culinary traditions?
Cuban cuisine is incredibly intriguing to me—not just because it’s where my family is from, but because it is a forgotten cuisine. A lot of the real traditional dishes that you would find in the more rural parts of the country have been lost.
Bread + Butter is a Cuban gastropub-counter restaurant. Did all these elements come together seamlessly? What challenges did you encounter in combining different food cultures?
The idea of making Bread + Butter a gastropub with Cuban cafeteria culture was not a difficult one. There are a lot of similarities between the two. Cafeterias have always been a place where the average Joe can enjoy a home-cooked meal in a casual setting. To incorporate the gastropub culture, we made the design funky, added good beer and wine, and sourced the best ingredients.
The menu includes variations on traditional Cuban sandwiches and fritas. What do you do at B+B to make these classics unique?
The sandwiches at B+B are playful renditions of classics produced with homemade ingredients. For instance, we take the Elena Ruz Sandwich—which is traditionally made with turkey, cream cheese, and strawberry jelly—and give it a makeover. We bake our own Cuban Pullman bread, slice it thin, toast it, and fill it with whipped pistachio goat cheese, housemade roasted turkey, papaya jam, and arugula.
You’ve talked about your desire to affect Miami’s “evolving palate.” How do you think B+B will affect tastes or expectations when it comes to dining out?
My hope for B+B is that it changes the way people perceive Cuban food. It’s not always greasy and poor quality. There are some Cuban restaurants in Miami that do it right and we hope to be part of that group. It’s also important to me that every age group can enjoy what we are doing. We want to be that place where a whole family (from grandparents to grandchildren) can sit together, reminisce, and have a good time. Our commitment to family comes from our respect for everything that came before us; it’s very Cuban. At B+B, family comes first.
Your restaurant name was inspired by your childhood nickname. Do you still love to eat bread and butter for breakfast?
Unfortunately, I love to eat my own food and that’s why I’ve gained a few pounds since I opened the restaurant. It’s not easy arriving at the restaurant each day to freshly baked loaves of bread made in-house by our baker.
Are the elements of nostalgia (childhood nicknames, the black and white photos, etc.) important to Cuban culture? Or do they stem from your own personality?
The black and white pictures, the nickname, they are all part of what I mentioned earlier: respecting what came before you. As a first generation Cuban American, I have two major responsibilities: to make sure my kids know the country where their grandparents were born, and to make sure they know it still exists and they have family there.
If you could go to Cuba today for an authentic meal, what would you eat?
I went to Cuba in October of 2013 and I can tell you the best meals are in the small paladares—family run mom-and-pop businesses. The best dish I had was Masa de Puerco Frito. The pork in Cuba tastes different. I’m not sure why, but it was delicious!
You share a name with a professional baseball player. Has that connection brought you any unexpected fame, funny stories, or misdirected autograph requests?
No. Like Cubans say, it’s a good thing to have a tocayo (a person with the same name) who’s a triple crown winner.