Although he calls Miami his home, we don't often hear much about what Chef Douglas Rodriguez is up to locally. Sure, he still owns and operates OLA in the Sanctuary Hotel (among other restaurants in Philadelphia and New York City,) but you probably saw him most recently on the boob tube, during his brief and unsuccessful stint on Bravo's chef competition reality show spin-off, Top Chef Masters.
So, like us, you will probably be pleased -- maybe even thrilled -- to know that the "Godfather of Nuevo Latino" cuisine plans to return to his roots after an affair with all things South American. Rodriguez will celebrate the foods and culture of Miami's second homeland, Cuba, in a new restaurant slated to open December 1 at the Hotel Astor in the old La Maison D'Azur space.
"I'm going back to my Yuca days," he says. "It's what I know, and
I've gotten away from it for a while. I'm excited to reinvent it. My
goal is for the people to say this is the best Cuban restaurant they've
ever eaten in... I'm focusing on classic Cuban dishes done with quality
Cuban ingredients and done with a lot of love."
Taking cues from its name, D. Rodriguez Cuba, this restaurant
is a deeply personal one for the chef. The project came together like
gangbusters, with first discussions occurring as recently as July.
Rodriguez was initially
considering other areas, but he saw a strong need for a Cuban
restaurant on the beach. The chef explains that he has a lot of
relationships with hotel concierges, and their number one request is
for Cuban food. A mutual friend put him in touch with the hotel owner, and the rest is history.
"There's always challenges," Rodriguez says. "Being in the restaurant
business you become like a chameleon, always changing... You always
gotta listen to your clients and change. It's very important. And
improving is very important."
Although he's never been to Cuba himself, Miami is about as close to the island as you can get in terms of authentic culture, which Rodriguez will celebrate through the restaurant's atmosphere -- to include vintage advertisements, films, and music flooding the dining room. The chef aims to infuse the same energy into his food.
"I've got some bells and whistles, some inventive things," he adds. "You know the chocolate cigar that has been my signature for 15 years? I'm kinda reinventing it, presenting it inside a cigar box. I'm pumping burning vanilla beans into the box, so when the customer opens it, smoke will come out."
And of his experience on Top Chef Masters?
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"I didn't take it too seriously. I mean, I had to cook eggs with one hand tied behind my back. It was a fun experience to raise some money for charity, so it's all good."
D. Rodriguez Cuba
956 Washington Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139