Coral Gables restaurant Piripi has hit some bumps on its short road. The restaurant opened six months ago at the Village of Merrick Park. Expectations were high, mostly due to its chef, Najat Kaanache, who claimed a most impressive resume, including a stint at Ferran Adria's famed El Bulli in Roses, Spain, along with time spent at Michelin three-starred restaurants Noma, Per Se, French Laundry, and Alinea.
Then, just two month after Piripi opened, Kaanache was ousted when restaurant employees claimed mistreatment and unfair wage practices. Piripi's owners issued a statement regarding the issue, saying, "Piripi regrets that accusations are being made against the restaurant's former Chef. To the extent this dispute might collaterally imply any wrongdoing by Piripi or its principals, such implications are misplaced."
Enter 25 year-old Angelina Bastidas. The Bronx native, who spent most of her life in Miami, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and has worked in some high-profile kitchens like Area 31, the Bazaar by Jose Andres, Palme D'Or, Taperia Raca, and, most recently, Tongue & Cheek, where she served as chef de cuisine.
Bastidas said she had learned that Piripi was looking for a new executive chef and decided she had to have the job. "I was always interested in Piripi. I grew more attracted to the restaurant when I received news they were looking for a new executive chef. It was no secret about the word on the street; it was now an opportunity to contact ownership and get this restaurant where it deserves to be."
Owners Gus Abalo and Teo Arranz decided to place their kitchen in her hands, and it was up to the young chef to restore confidence in the staff and prove she could not only cook, but manage a high-volume kitchen. "When I arrived at Piripi, I could tell the kitchen needed guidance and a chef.
"My job is to build a system so we can create good food, and I'm doing so. First thing was to make sure I engage with my team and let them know I'm there to work with them, and to lead by example. When your cooks know the chef is more than a 9-to-5, scrolling-on-the-computer chef, you gain that trust and respect you need in order to be successful."
That also included changing some of the menu to reflect the chef's tastes and style, which Bastidas describes as "fun and whimsical food with a sexy approach." The chef tweaked some dishes and introduced some new plates, making the menu more straightforward. "Guests want to know and understand what they're eating, and the way the menu is laid out now is in a manner where guests can feel comfortable, and my servers as well."
The young chef wanted to base the menu on local and seasonal ingredients. "Working with different textures and techniques, and showing people what we can turn basic ingredients into is what I'm doing to show people who's at Piripi."
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Some new dishes include a roasted beet salad ($14) which has three different textures of beets, brûléed drunken goat cheese, baby arugula, and sherry reduction, and the chistorra Piripi ($11) with shoestring potatoes, sauteed chistorra sausage, sous-vide egg, and manchego espuma seasoned with smoked maldon salt.
With Miami's busy season arriving, Bastidas wants people to know that dining at Piripi should be an easy, social occasion. "I want people to know Piripi is your home. It's a place where you can enjoy a good time with friends, family, and acquaintances, without feeling pressured into anything. It's a spot where we want guests to enjoy everything from the welcoming, to the bar, to the food and service."
And, if some people are surprised at the executive chef's young age, Bastidas would counter with her drive and experience. "I have been successful in my career and am still striving to be better. I believe if you are genuine to yourself and what you stand behind, it will get you far."