One of this city's most venerable chefs, Douglas Rodriguez, is closing his South Beach restaurant, De Rodriguez Miami.
Rodriguez says he'll shutter the place at the Hilton Bentley Beach Club this Friday, May 8. (May 7 will be the last day of dining service.)
The restaurant opened as De Rodriguez on Ocean in 2010 and went through several iterations. Rodriguez says that after several menu changes, it was time to look for a new location. The restaurant, which specialized in seafood and the chef's Nuevo Latino dishes, was located at the back of the property, with little street visibility and no foot traffic along one of South Beach's busiest thoroughfares.
Rodriguez, who took Miami by storm at the original Yuca in Coral Gables in the late '80s, also opened OLA, first on Biscayne Boulevard and then Miami Beach. With De Rodriguez closing, the chef is left without a presence in Miami — for now. Rodriguez, however, seems fatalistic about his successes and failures. "I've lost fortunes."
The closing of De Rodriguez does not mean Rodriguez is resting on his laurels. His Philadelphia restaurant, Alma de Cuba, remains open, and he's working on a cookbook based on his travels in Cuba. Rodriguez confided he's truly happiest behind the stove. "I don't know whether I'm more excited to cook meals or to eat them, but the kitchen is where I belong."
In addition, he plans to open a new restaurant in Miami. Although he won't give details yet, the chef says he's been working on this new project for some time. Asked about the location, he doesn't rule out a return to the Beach but also muses about Miami's emerging MiMo District, especially where his first OLA was located, at NE 50th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. "That's the one restaurant that I really miss. At the time, I think the price point was too much for the neighborhood. Every time I drive past that location, I think what might have been."
And although Rodriquez hasn't confirmed a concept, the "Godfather of Nuevo Latino Cuisine" and multiple James Beard Award nominee still believes his signature fusion of traditional Latin ingredients with South, Central, and North American cooking is the way South Florida should be eating. "There's really a need for that here in Miami.
The chef is also hosting culinary tours to Cuba, with several trips in the works. And with ferry service now almost approved to the island, possibilities are growing.
Rodriguez, who is Cuban-American, says his tours are true people-to-people experiences. "We visit locally run paladars. I bring chefs' tools with me and encourage everyone on the trips to do the same, so that when we visit a restaurant, we bring a gift basket filled with items for the host chef."
The award-winning toque says his experiences in Cuba have been educational. For one, he has learned the chefs create their meals without the assistance of much (if any) modern conveniences. "I was at this one restaurant, and I told the chef I wanted to make a nice lobster ceviche. No problem, since there's plenty of lobster and coconuts around. But when I arrived, the gas went out at the restaurant, as it does every day around noon, so I couldn't make coconut milk. Instead, we fashioned coconut milk out of a sweet milk laced with coconut rum. That's how you cook in Cuba."
On the other hand, the food that's available is exquisite, Rodriguez says. "The people there are eating organic and they don't even know it. You've never seen vegetables like the ones grown there. And the pigs are not commodity pigs; they are hand-raised on the farms. Everything is quality."
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The chef says that even after many trips to Cuba, he's always amazed at the beauty of the country — and the stark contrast to the United States. "The cars are from the 1950s, there are no cell phones, and the people are the nicest in the world. Every time I go, I'm reminded that sometimes less is more. From a culinary point of view, these people are cooking great food without state-of-the art equipment, but instead they have heart and talent."
You still have a few days to sample chef Rodriguez's cuisine. Or, better yet, spend a week with him in Cuba. The next trip departs May 22, and prices range from $800-900 a day, including airfare, hotel, and meals. Visit chefdouglasrodriguez.com for more details and itineraries.