You’ll see the same introduction on every google bio of Chef Douglas Rodriguez – “James Beard Award Winner”, “Godfather of Nuevo Latino Cuisine”, “Top Chef Master on First Season of Bravo’s Chopped” (my personal favorite), and the endless list of his award-winning restaurants all over the country.
At the age when most of us were trying not to move back in with mom, Rodriguez opened his first restaurant, Yuca, at 24, in Miami’s Coral Gables, which won him the “Chef of the Year, Miami” award from The Chefs of America. This is where his courting nominations with The James Beard Foundation began.
Born to Cuban immigrants, he has revitalized and inspired traditional Latino cuisine to such magnitude that he has a cult following of his recipes, restaurants, and cooking style. He has published multiple books, and has recently started a series of culinary tours.
The Havana Culinary Exchange, a cooking tour through Cuba with American chefs, has clearly been his favorite so far. The group organized a food and wine festival in Havana, working with local chefs and exchanging experiences, cooking styles, and even tools. (Americans specifically brought knives and professional cutlery for the locals who lack access to them.) In Cuba, resources are not only limited in kitchen technology, but ingredients as well. The American chefs learned how to improvise and create dishes when one can’t depend on ingredients. For example, onions were not available one day, so the chefs learned to make sofrito without onions – an unthinkable thing, unless you’re in Cuba.
Seeing him talk about experiences like this is where one can catch the genuine essence of Rodriguez -an open spirit with a deep passion for honoring his roots. His eyes gaze with excitement as he scrolls through a screen of images and events that took place on the tour.
For a man who has travelled reaches of the world that Lemuel Gulliver never made it to, Cuba was one of the last on the list. But after visiting his parent’s native land as recently as 2013, he’s been back fourteen times. “Once you go, you can never, not go back”.