In Cuba, a food revolution is taking place. Old world recipes combine with modern ones to create dishes such as black bean and white rice ice cream.
Guillermo Pernot, chef/partner at Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar in Washington, D.C., has made it his mission to bring that food revolution to the U.S.
Pernot traveled to Cuba three times in 2011, and next year, the friends he made will visit Washington, D.C., in a Pop-Up Paladares cooking series–marking the first time in decades that an American chef has been able to host Cuban chefs in the U.S.
“I made friends with some great people and chefs [on my first trip],” Pernot says. “I cooked at the restaurant with them. We went shopping for food, which was a very exciting proposition in Cuba, as you can imagine, because they don’t have almost anything.”
He named the chef series Pop-Up Paladares based off a growing trend in the country.
“There’s a lot of new restaurants opening up, they’re called paladares,” Pernot says. “They’re very small restaurants that people open in the house.”
The revitalization of Cuban cuisine is born from the paladares trend mixing with Cuban chefs who cook old-world recipes, Pernot says.
“They’re making lots of foods from family recipes, but on the other hand, some chefs are assigned to make very modern cuisine, a very unique blend of flavors,” he explains.
This blend of flavors travels to America from Jan. 17-19, 2012, when Cuban chefs Luis Alberto Alfonso Perez, who runs four paladares in Havana, and chef Perez introduce a collaborative four-course menu featuring lobster salad, eggplant-wrapped raviolis, baby wild boar rib chop, and Pategras cheese flan.
“They are creating a lot of new versions of traditional food,” Pernot says. “There was a guy [on my trip], for example, that made a traditional plate but finished it with rose petal sauce. And it was so unique and amazing.”
Pernot believes the Cuban renewal is particularly interesting because, “You have to remember, they work with very limited resources,” he says. “So, when they get something right, it’s such an accomplishment.”
Further Pop-Up Paladares are scheduled for June and October, with more Cuban chefs voyaging to D.C. to bring back to America of the food combinations just south of the border.
In the meantime, Pernot and his wife Lucia, whose great-great-grandfather was Cuba’s third president, will lead group tours to Cuba this spring. Pernot will educate travelers by serving as a private guide, navigating through the Cuban culinary scene and stopping by Ernest Hemingway’s Havana home.
“The reason we’re doing the Pop-Up Paladares is to let everybody know—people still think that Cubans are eating rice and beans and ground beef,” Pernot says. “But there is so much more going on in Havana. And a lot of people are not aware of it, so we want to make sure we assert our stand.”
By Sonya Chudgar