1919 Restaurant within the Condado Vanderbilt Lodge. All photographs: Condado Vanderbilt.
Puerto Rican Chef Juan Jose Cuevas has had a unprecedented profession since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. From three-star Michelin restaurant Akelarre in San Sebastian, Spain, to working at The Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, El Raco in Barcelona, and Essex Home in New York Metropolis, Cuevas’ storied profession is past spectacular. He’s labored with famend cooks resembling Alain Ducasse and Christian Delouvrier and earned Michelin stars at numerous eating places together with on the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, New Jersey. Immediately, in his most essential position because the Government Chef of 1919, Cuevas is steering the Condado Vanderbilt Lodge’s flagship restaurant in San Juan, Puerto Rico to inimitable standing. Cuevas’ triumphant return to Puerto Rico comes at an opportune second for the island. Together with his dedication to utilizing solely locally-sourced merchandise, the chef just isn’t solely producing mouthwatering dishes however serving to to offer a sustainable setting for the native farms whereas selling the farm-to-table motion in Puerto Rico.
Downtown: What’s the first reminiscence you could have of eager to be a chef?
Chef Juan Jose Cuevas: My first reminiscence was working in restaurant once I was 16 years previous. I used to be fascinated by the drive and power within the kitchen. Then, once I was 17, I went to a superb eating restaurant and fell in love with how issues have been achieved.
Downtown: What are the colours, smells, and setting that the majority take you again to that first second of realization of how meals can convey individuals collectively?
JJC: That second occurred afterward in my life once I moved to San Francisco. There, I noticed, smelled, and touched every little thing on the farmers market. I noticed how they set the stage at Chez Pannisse and noticed how individuals out and in of the kitchen at eating places stay each second caring for the others, how meals brings individuals to share at a desk, and right into a dialog.
Downtown: What are a number of the experiences which have most formed you as a chef?
JJC: I’ve had a number of nice alternatives which have helped form me as a chef. Every of them contributed in several methods.
- Sylvain Portay: He had a tremendous approach of working together with his palms, and his style buds have been very delicate however flavorful. A lot of the explanation why I turned a chef might be attributed to him. He opened many doorways for me.
- Alain Ducasse: He taught me a respect for the elements, in addition to method, precision, and management. He taught me there is just one approach to do it…the suitable means. All the things with him was concerning the particulars and perfection.
- Santi Santamaria: Elements! His information of the historical past behind meals and the way a lot it pertains to whom we’re was essential. He was a really humble and caring Chef
I additionally learn Lulu’s Provencal Desk early on in my profession. It opened my thoughts to a world unknown to me. It cemented in me a ardour for cooking, together with the smells, sounds, and the great thing about the country setting and meals.
Downtown: You commenced your profession in a three-star Michelin restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. Apart from the situation, which is a culinary haven, that may be a mind-boggling starting. How did that come about and what was the expertise like for you?
JJC: It was an outstanding first job! It was my first time in a kitchen of such a excessive degree. There have been so many cooks, and a lot respect for all the things, with an virtually army sort of precision and group. All of it started as a result of I used to be fortunate sufficient to satisfy Pedro Subijana, the chef/proprietor, in New York at some point. I helped him as a translator, and after that, he requested me if I needed to work with him in San Sebastian.
Downtown: In all of the locations you’ve labored, the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, the El Raco in Barcelona, and Essex Home in New York Metropolis to call a number of, has there been a unifying expertise for you? How have been they comparable and the way have been they totally different?
JJC: They have been all comparable within the following: a respect for the elements and method. There was PASSION. There was not that a lot distinction between them apart from the apparent – several types of cuisines, and so forth. However the love and keenness in every kitchen was the identical. The Ritz was a smaller staff so we turned a household. Essex Home was an enormous group, every individual was chock-full of expertise and it was a melting pot (there have been Parisian, Monacoian, Canadian, American, African, and Corsican cooks, in addition to myself, from Puerto Rico). El Raco was very private, all of us lived there and we shared so many hours collectively. Santi was a gourmand and he transmitted his love of meals to us.
Downtown: You might have labored with unimaginable cooks all through your profession, Alain Ducasse and Christian Delouvrier amongst them. What’s a trait you’ve most discovered to admire within the kitchen?
JJC: A respect for components. To make use of all of your senses: odor, contact, sight, sound, and style. To let the elements dictate their course.
Downtown: What’s certainly one of your largest accomplishments as a chef?
JJC: I’m very proud of my profession. Listed here are a number of moments I’m pleased with:
- I acquired three stars
from the New York Occasions for a
restaurant that lead the pack once I took over.
- I’m the primary
Puerto Rican to win a Michelin Star.
- My largest
accomplishment up to now although is to see how the individuals who have labored underneath me
comply with and regard me as a pacesetter and as a mentor.
To see the sunshine in my daughter’s eyes once we share a dialog about meals, wine, and eating places makes me really feel completed. I see she shares the eagerness and love I’ve for cooking and all that comes with it, and meaning quite a bit to me.
Downtown: What drew you again to working in Puerto Rico?
JJC: The chance to return got here with The Condado Vanderbilt Lodge’s 1919 restaurant. I all the time needed to return, however the alternative had by no means appeared. I really like Puerto Rico, so when Jose Suarez (President of Worldwide Hospitality Enterprises), approached me to do it, I didn’t hesitate to return. Now, is our flip to place PR on the culinary map!
Downtown: What do you most love about your position because the Government Chef of 1919?
JJC: Within the six years since I’ve moved again, it’s gratifying to see how a lot impression I’ve been capable of have on the native farming, agriculture, and economics. To know that I can and have helped within the improvement of culinary concepts on the island is supremely necessary.
Downtown: How typically do you create a brand new menu at 1919, and what’s your strategy to creating the common menus and the tasting menus?
JJC: We modify the menu 4 to 5 occasions a yr. My strategy is straightforward: let the ingredient converse for themselves. We’re all the time in steady dialog with our native farmers to develop our menus. As for the tasting menu, we all the time start mild and easy and slowly gear as much as extra complicated mixtures: from barely touched to considerably enhanced in taste.
Downtown: Are you able to give us an instance of a few of the distinctive dishes you presently have in your tasting menu?
- Tuna-King Fish Crudo, Uni, Osetra Caviar, Spicy Tomato French dressing
- Native Chayote Salad, Pickled Aji Dulce, Citrus, Avocado, Thai Brussel Sprouts.
- Sluggish Cooked King Salmon, Wild Purslane, native Zucchini-Dill Jus
- Crispy Cochinillo Stomach, native Kale “Caesar”
- Miyazaki A5, Charred Habanero French dressing, Potato Churros
- Native Peto, Minestrone of native Beans and Cabbage
Downtown: What’s one among your staple dishes?
JJC: A light-weight fricassee of vegetable that we name Pistou. It’s a full vegetarian fricassee made with totally different vegetable juices, oils, and a pesto created from totally different herbs and greens.
Downtown: Inform us concerning the farm-to-table motion in Puerto Rico! How has that affected what you place in your menus?
JJC: The farm-to-table motion is rising quick; it’s how I created my menus earlier than I moved to PR, and as soon as I moved again, it’s what commanded the event of our menus.
Downtown: What would you want individuals to find out about 1919?
JJC: I’m in love with 1919! Within the preparation of the components used for every dish, the intention is to deliver the flavors ahead with out distraction. Our purpose is to acquire readability in style and presentation in order that the friends can absolutely understand the essence of the merchandise used. As well as, we select elements that may present most dietary sustenance.
Our emphasis is on freshness and purity of elements. To seize the very best degree of taste, the components are utilized in season, in relation to the time of harvest. Our strategies spotlight the significance of figuring out our suppliers, from farmers to fishermen. My signature delicacies abandons the normal use of meats and lotions and as an alternative presents the extreme flavors and textures of vegetable juices, fruit essences, mild bouillons, and natural vinaigrettes.
It’s a restaurant characterised by a up to date kitchen with a standard base that caters to seasonal merchandise. We embellish dishes with taste by way of the factors of cooking, the textures and uncooked supplies are of nice high quality. Our tasting menus stand out, particularly the place method and basic recipes are married in every dish.
Downtown: Inform us about 1919’s wines. What your course of in selecting the wines and vintages in your pairings?
JJC: Our wine listing could be very numerous with an enormous affect from Spain and California. Our wine pairings comply with the identical course of as our meals – they go from mild/easy to extra complicated/strong wines. In the course of the day, we style totally different wines to determine which one will go higher with that day’s menu.
Downtown: What are a few your favourite pairings?
JJC: Champagne to start: My favourite is Bollinger or Bonnaire. White: El Tamboril 2015 with the slow-cooked Salmon and Pistou. Pink: Rey Moro 2015 or Miura Pinot Noir, Pisoni Winery 2010 with our native Cartucho (fish), natural Quinoa, “Pastel al Caldero”, and Pink Wine Mole Jus.
Downtown: You might have an outstanding staff! Inform us a bit about them!
JJC: Carol Reyes is our chef de delicacies at 1919. She has been with me since we opened. She is tremendous demanding, organized, has nice knife expertise, and is extremely dedicated.
Downtown: What do you most take pleasure in about 1919’s location within the Condado Vanderbilt?
JJC: Condado Vanderbilt brings status, magnificence, and finesse to 1919. The Condado space is busy, vigorous and near the whole lot. It’s the greatest location to remain in case you are in San Juan, PR.
Downtown: 1919, the Condado Vanderbilt, and the culinary motion in Puerto Rico are extremely spectacular. What would you want vacationers to know about your island and what it has to supply?
JJC My island is beautiful, it has nice seashores, an amazingly lush Rainforest (El Yunque), an amazing night time life, and a historic metropolis. Our meals is daring, flavorful, and numerous.
Downtown: What can we anticipate from you and 1919 within the subsequent couple of years?
JJC: We’ll proceed rising to supply extra culinary experiences. We’re placing collectively a visitor chef collection the place we invite and convey Cooks from outdoors of PR to prepare dinner with us. We’ll proceed working with native farmers along with introducing them to extra resorts and restaurant. My imaginative and prescient of my work in Puerto Rico is to assist create a direct connection between farms, farming, and eating places. We’ll proceed to be advocates for agricultural resilience and advocates for soil well being and natural farming.