Our news story this week describes a made-in-Miami saga of alleged immigrant exploitation and misrepresentation at the much-hyped Spanish restaurant Piripi in Merrick Park that ended with the ouster of executive chef Najat Kaanache. The chef, who learned of her firing only after New Times sent her messages on social media requesting comment, offered a lengthy interview with her and six former kitchen staffers who all walked out after she was let go.
"I had never been in a restaurant before, but she made me stick around and stay and want to keep learning," former pastry cook Sabrina Restrepo said of Kaanache.
Others sought to dispel the notion that Kaanache was anything but a fine chef. "She spent every night running from station to station in addition to making sure our stuff was coming out perfectly," said Christopher Harriott, who worked at a cold station. "It was amazing to watch her work."
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A printed letter from El Bulli's Ferran Adrià speaks to her time at the now-legendary restaurant in Roses, Spain. "Her work demonstrated scrupulous punctuality, fellowship, humility, and passion to work and innovate," the letter says. "That is why I am sure she will have a great future in our profession, and I proudly extend to her this letter of recommendation."
Letters from the James Beard Foundation and Les Dames D'Escoffier International also praised her qualifications when the Spanish-born chef sought an immigrant visa to live and work in the United States. "She unquestionably qualifies as one of the world's finest chefs — for her extraordinary talent, her multi-cultural background, and her serious depth of knowledge about food science," the Beard Foundation's Diane Harris Brown wrote in an early-2014 letter.
Still, Kaanache was emotional during a lengthy interview, nearly breaking into tears as former employees' and interns' accusations were rehashed. "I'm still in that space," she said. "I never left it."