Nuevo Latino Comes to Town

Chef Douglas Rodriguez is coming to Bogotá and he’ll be creating a special menu for La Fragata Fish Market from September 8-11 as part of the Festival de la Nueva Cocina Latina. I plan on splurging on this event because his food is genuinely good. I mean, really, really good. I worked at two of his restaurants back in the days when I was still a pastry cook, so I’ve had a taste or two.

Douglas Rodriguez

When I moved back to Miami in 2005 to write my dissertation on contemporary Latin American cuisine and culture (a.k.a. Nuevo Latino), this man was a central player. He basically started the concept in Miami and then it grew into the Mango Gang (a “gang” of south Florida chefs preparing the same style of cuisine) and now it’s pretty much all over the place.

Basically, Nuevo Latino cuisine uses ingredients from all over Central and South America to create innovative dishes that are sometimes totally new or just refined versions of the original.

So, back to the story. Before I even started writing my paper I saw an ad in the Miami Herald: Chefs Wanted for Douglas Rodriguez’s new restaurant. Wow!

I immediately dusted off my resume and made an appointment to go down to the restaurant for an interview. As I was waiting for my turn with HR, Douglas himself approached me and asked me what position I was there for. Pastry Cook. He looked at my resume and a minute later he said, ” As far as I’m concerned, you’re hired.”

Life is full of surprises.

So there I was, hired to work with the grand daddy of Nuevo Latino and writing a paper that was, in part, about him – what are the chances? It was perfect. But wait – two days before my first day of work I got appendicitis. Nice, right?  I had to call my would-be boss, Douglas’s pastry chef Jose Luis Flores, to say that I needed a couple of weeks to recover from surgery. Again, life with its little surprises.

So, finally I was able to start work with a note from my doctor saying I couldn’t lift anything too heavy for a few months, but so what – I was in. I learned so much, especially from Joseluis, an amazing, kind and talented pastry chef from Mexico who is still making some of the best plated desserts I have ever had (he recently published his own cookbook, Dulce).

I worked at OLA Miami and OLA Steak for 8 months total. It turned out though, that I actually needed more time to work on researching and writing about the origins of nuevo Latino and a full-time restaurant job didn’t help. I asked Douglas for an interview several times before I left and it was almost impossible. When I finally got the interview he left me waiting halfway through while he went to eat lunch in the restaurant. Infuriating.

The kitchen at OLA steak was also infernally hot (hotter inside than outside – that’s right, hotter than Miami in summer). So it was a combination of things that led me away from my stint with Douglas, but despite those details I still appreciate the quality of his food. He doesn’t create confusion, he creates fusion. To me, this means understanding ingredients and cooking techniques, and knowing just how far you can take a dish before it becomes a ridiculous attempt to create something “new” just for the hell of it.

So that’s the story. I’ll never forget my experience with Douglas and Joseluis – the good and the bad.

The tasting menu at this event costs $98,000 a head and you have to go to the restaurant to buy your tickets.

Cra. 9 No. 77-99

Bogotá

Tel: 255 9505

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