Bongos' Chef Alex Describes Cuban Sushi and Balut

Did Chef Alex make you a believer after reading part one of last week's interview? Here's the rest of our chat:

Any types of cuisine you are curious about but haven't attempted?

Exotic meats.

Like offal?

Way beyond that. Some guy in Arizona has a restaurant and he's taking reservations for lion burgers. This guy served python. I know it's taboo but it's really exciting. But I probably don't have the heart to do it.

Describe some unique plates you've made here.

Cuban sushi. I took soy wraps instead of seaweed wraps because I didn't want the taste to overpower, rice, ropa vieja, platanos maduros, and I put black bean paste inside. We also did a fish reverse sushi roll with smashed plantains.

And there are these Cuban cigars I make, which are spring rolls, but inside you've got your pork, your ham, pickles, cheese. What I do is roll them up and put a mustard aioli sauce for dipping.

We want people to experience the traditional and try something new also.

How do you keep the calories down?

As you saw, when we saute on a flat top, we use a squirt bottle. We used to use a ladle full of grease. Now we squeeze it from a bottle instead. We use a higher quality meat and we have an onsite butcher. He takes all the fat off it before cooking. We use leaner cuts of bacon. Even in our vaca frita, which is typically fried... we aren't using manteca.

Sorry, what's manteca?


Eww. Any other ingredient you don't like working with? Why?

Malanga. The taste is very pungent. To me, it tastes like a fart in your mouth.

What ingredient or dish is on too many American menus?

Breakfast items: omelettes and whatnont. Nobody comes out with anything new for breakfast. It tends to be the same thing over and over again.

Most unusual food combination you've ever been served?

I didn't eat it, but it was served to me by a Filipino chef at Le Cordon Bleu. He said to me it's a delicacy in Philippines: what it actually is is a bird embryo inside the egg [balut]. It's a hard boiled egg, but inside is a bird with feathers. You eat whole thing. It's like the national dish of Philippines. He gave me fish eyeball and some sauce and I ate it, but this is where I had to draw the line.

If you could have one last meal, what would it be?

Something really simple: rice and picadillo and beans. I like it in a bowl.

Any favorite restaurants, aside from Bongos, of course?

Flanigan's. The wings are good. I also like the teriyaki chicken with dirty rice. And I like the people there. It's not stuffy and it's relaxed.

Again, aside from any restaurants owned by the Estefans, where would you go for authentic Cuban eats in Miami?

The warehouses in Hialeah. Go in the warehouse district. They have cafeterias. You'll find them on every corner over there. Go to the one with a crowd. That's where you'll find grandma or grampa cooking family recipes.

Speaking of recipes, come back tomorrow for his Cuban fufu for two recipe.

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Riki Altman