How did you get your start in food?My mother is an amazing cook and I always watched what she was cooking and helped her in the kitchen. As a young teen, my cousin had restaurants in Miami and I did everything from bussing tables to help in the kitchen, but my first experience in professional kitchens came after the economic crash of 2008. I was working in finance and I decided to take a look into a new career path in culinary arts. I enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in Miami and, as part of my curriculum, I needed to complete an internship where I decided that "if I was going to be the best, I needed to learn from the best,” which led me to work at Cafe Boulud in Palm Beach for Chef Daniel Boulud.
You cite your mother as one of your biggest inspirations. How do her recipes influence your food?At Spanglish, all the dishes we make are dishes that my mother made for me while growing up. My culinary background has only enhanced the dishes as I have learned the importance of using high quality, locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. She taught me the flavors and “soul" that is Cuban food and without her influence, Spanglish would not exist.
You’ve served up dishes in top restaurants, like NYC’s Westlight and Miami’s Golden Fig. What were some of the biggest lessons you learned working in these kitchens?
Westlight and Golden Fig taught me many things. Golden Fig taught me what it was like to have the complete freedom to change my menu seasonally, the ability to use many unique ingredients and meet some incredible farmers who are doing wonderful things in the area of sustainability. Golden Fig allowed me to grow as a chef by allowing me to build an incredible team of cooks and FOH staff that believed in the true “farm-to-table” concept. Golden Fig was “home”.
Westlight was an incredible experience. Westlight pushed and will push you to the limit of service. With almost 800+ covers a night, you are taught to be on top of your game at all times. The food was fun, exciting, and perfect for the over-the-top setting that is the 22nd floor of the William Vale, overlooking beautiful New York City. The ability to work alongside my chef-mentors, Chef Anthony Ricco, Chef Conor Hanlon and Chef Andrew Carmellini was an honor.
After living in Miami and New York, why did you decide to make Charleston your next home?Charleston has always been on our radar. We knew that Charleston was becoming a culinary destination with sensational kitchens like FIG, Obstinate Daughter and McCrady’s but, honestly, my wife always wanted to live here so it was an easy transition. Charleston has it all; good food, exceptionally warm and loving people, beautiful architecture, great weather— what else could we ask for?
Where did the idea for Spanglish come from?
Prior to our move to Charleston, we had developed our hospitality group where we contracted, coordinated and participated in various pop-up dinners and private events in New York, Miami and Dallas. One of the concepts we were in the process of developing was Spanglish; an elevated Cuban-American, ingredient-driven fast casual concept in where we took food that we learned from eating at home in Miami by focusing primarily on good ingredients and keeping it as local as possible.
Your dishes feature many local ingredients and highlight the farm-to-table process. Why is it important to you to utilize regional produce?
Regional or local ingredients are very important to us for many reasons, but the main reason is quality. If the ingredients are in season, and they are local to your area and they don’t have to travel across the country or the world to get to your plate, you are almost guaranteed to get the optimal flavor possible from that ingredient. Another bonus is that you are supporting farmers and purveyors in your community— and thats a win-win for everyone!
Spanglish’s menu is melting pot for Cuban + southern cuisine. Why do you think these different styles of food work together so well?
Believe it or not, Cuban food and southern cuisine both share the same west African influences so the flavors and ingredients are very similar and recognizable to both cultures. That makes it very easy to meld both cuisines and ingredients together so easily. A lot of the dishes are very similar just seasoned differently. For example, we have dish that we call “Congri” which is basically a cuban-version of a Hoppin John. At Spanglish we use Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice and Sea Island Red peas to make our version that is seasoned with a sofrito, cumin and oregano.
What’s next for you + Spanglish?
Our hospitality group is currently working on various projects which include some private events and pop ups. We will be completing our initial tenure at Workshop later this year and we are actively seeking a permanent brick-and-mortar location in the Charleston area. We do not plan on leaving Charleston any time soon!