Saro bistro is open!



And iv’e already hosted TEDx lower east side at the restaurant with my gifted sister Maya Elhalal-Levavi as the curator and

onstage host. Flooring TED talks and an amazing performance by Amber Rubarth.

Coming Soon : Saro Bistro

Saro Bistro, my long awaited restaurant is opening soon in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (102 Norfolk Street).

You can see the updates and follow the renovations on Facebook under: Saro Bistro. The official website will be launched shortly.


Who’s Afraid of a Rib Roast?

Roast beef is the perfect  Entrée’ to an end of summer feast. A well prepared roast is both festive and rustic , simple to make yet impressive.

I chose to prepare   a rib roast for this year’s Rosh Hashana( Jewish New -year’s), because the forecast is for a hot day and roasts along with all other dry cooking methods yield a lighter result than Proteins prepared using  moist cooking methods ( Stews, Braises, poached meats…) which we prefer in the winter.

Many home cooks fear the large roast , for no good reason other than the fact that they had made a disastrous one at some point  and do not want to waste an expensive piece of meat, or be embarrassed at the dinner table by a tough ,overcooked dry result.

Now, a great roast is easy! It is all about high quality ingredients and following the guidelines to a Tee . No shortcuts please!

The best kosher cuts of beef used for roasting are : Tenderloin /Fillet ( only the front end) and the Rib (bone in , boneless, rolled) , the deboned cuts are also referred to as Striploin ( American market term or Entrecote ( French term).



1 Rib Roast , bone in and trussed. Make sure you know exactly how much your cut weighs.

1 bunch Thyme

2 Tbsp oil


Coarse ground black pepper


  1. Rub salt and pepper all around the roast and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  2. Remove from the fridge and allow to reach room tempo , about 1 hour. The result will be much more tender that way.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450oF.
  4. Place the meat over a layer of Thyme sprigs in a roasting pan.
  5. Drizzle the top with the oil and put in the oven for 15 minutes. This gives the initial sear that seals the pores in the meat, keeping it beautifully moist inside, and also caramelizes the meat ( called :Maillard Reaction- starches turn to sugars when they reach 310oF ), which yields that sweet charred flavor we love!
  6. Continue to roast for 12 minutes for every Lb. This is why the uncooked weight is important. ( Example : For a 5 Lb Bone in Rib roast you would need 15 minutes+ ( 12 mins*5Lb)= 75 minutes toal).
  7. Remove from the oven, cover loosely and allow to rest for 10 minutes above the oven before slicing. Resist the urge! This allows the juices to redistribute evenly in the meat .
  8. Enjoy!

“How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?” Charles de Gaulle

Trying to Categorize Cheeses

The final installment in my intro to Cheese Series.

There is no one set of rules by which to categorize the world’s cheeses. After thousands of years of cheese-making , we still are unable to agree on one set of rules, and here is why !

Some factors are very difficult to quantify – for example the classification relying  on smell. Detection and rating vary from person to person depending on how acute their sense of smell is.

No one category can address all types and nuances. For example, Classification relying on rind alone,puts hundreds of cheeses with no rind in the same category. Another example is classification by aging  that would put a Danish blue cheese and a Farmhouse Brie in the same category.

Traveling between different categories- Cheese is a living thing. Every cheese is released with a certain fat content and certain water content. As the cheese ages these percentages change due to water evaporation.Hence, the same triple creamed cheese , tastes much more pungent a month after you bought it! Moreover, a cheese that was classified as Semi-hard like a dutch Gouda will turn rock hard as it ages.

Knowing this, we can now learn to pick out, describe and appreciate cheeses using the more common categories for classification:


Classification determined by water content:

Very soft- 80 % water , spoonable, includes most fresh cheeses like Cottage cheese, Chevre,Labane.

Soft – 50 %-70% water, spreadable, includes the double and triple creamed cheeses ( Brie , Camembert,Robiola,Taleggio, Colummiers…), but also some feta cheeses( cow’s milk mainly).

Semihard- 40%-50% water, Sliceable, includes Edam,Gouda,Manchego,

Hard- 30%-50% water, very firm and dense, includes Parmigiano Reggiano , Pecorino,Piave,Ossau iraty, Mimolette..

Blue-40%-50% water,a classification within the semi hard group of cheeses,may be sliceable,spreadable or crumbly, includes all blue veined cheeses, like; Valdeon,Cabrales,Roquefort,Gorgonzola…


Length of aging prior to release

Fresh- Unaged, produced and released, include Cottage cheese , Cream cheese, Chevre.

Brief Molding period- 2 weeks-10 weeks, produced and allowed to take shape in a mold ( tub or basket), or for the rind to bloom,includes Feta, almost all blue cheeses and bloomy rind cheeses ( Grayson, Taleggio,Brie…).

Aged-Anywhere between 2 months and 5 years, depending on the cheese, produced and allowed to mature until the cheesemaker deems it fully aged and flavored, includes all hard and semi hard cheeses,like; Parmigiano Reggiano, Idiazabal,Pecorino, Cheddar,Gouda…

Type of Milk

Classification by what animal produces the milk.

The most common are Cow, Goat and Sheep (ewe), but there are also cheeses made with a mix of milk from different animals, and even cheeses from Buffalo,Moose , Camel or Yak’s milk.


Classification by degree of pungency.

A very difficult classification, works mainly for Bloomy rind cheeses like-Taleggio, Robiola, Camembert, Brie…

Method of making

Classification by main cheesemaking traditional methods.

Fresh Cheese-Unaged or ripened,includes some  slightly pressed cheeses( Feta ),whey based cheeses that are only strained ( Urda, Ricotta),and the spoonable, Cottage, Cream cheese,Chevre.

Pasta Filata Cheese- The curds are cooked,then stretched and folded repeatedly before molding or shaping. The cheese is then ready to eat or may be ripened further and even smoked ( Mozzarella, Provolone, Paneer,Kashkaval).

Unpressed Ripened Cheese- The curds are minimally cut and allowed to drain . They are then ripened with mold or bacteria on the cheese surface ( Camembert, Brie,Taleggio…) or using a starter culture that is applied to the surface or inoculated into the cheese ( Stilton)

Pressed and Ripened Cheese- The curds are pressed before ripening.Examples- Manchego, Idiazabal,Cheddar,

Cooked ,Pressed and ripened- The curds are cooked in the whey, then milled, molded and pressed. Then the cheeses are aged for up to 5 years ( Parmigiano Reggiano, Piave, Gouda,Edam,Emmental …)

Processed-After the initial cheese-making process is complete ( See 2nd chapter of this series), more milk and emulsifying salts are added, food coloring and preservatives. This yields a very consistent product, yet unhealthy. Unfortunately ,these cheeses, sold in blocks,slices, tubes and even sprays are  the most commonly consumed type  Americans buy and consume more than any other ( American cheese,Kraft singles,Cheez whiz ….and other varieties of crap!)


Classification by type of rind . The rind of the cheese controls the rate of water evaporation from the cheese, oxidation of the surface and escape of gases from within.

No rind- The cheese is produced and packaged or at most strained,salted and packed .Includes all fresh cheeses,like; Ricotta,Urda,Cream cheese,Feta…

White mold rind- The mold grows on the surface and is edible. The rind is sometimes brushed away a number of times throughout ripening ,so the cheese will develop a thicker rind. The mold is white at first and as the cheese ages it darkens.Includes; Camembert,Brie,Robiola bosina

Washed rind- the rind is washed with alcohol, usually Marc (Grape pomace Brandy ) or wine. The alcohol dries the surface of the cheese and the white boomy mold turns pinkish-Orange. The rind is moist and a has a slightly grainy mouth feel, thus not usually eaten.Includes Taleggio, Robiola Pineta,Grayson,Pont I’Eveque,

Natural dry rind- The rind is in fact the dry outer surface of the cheese.The rind can be brushed, scrape,oiled or wrapped in cloth depending on the desired result.The rind is inedible.includes Parmigiano Reggiano,Cheddar,Piave,…

Organic rind-Leaves, spices and herbs applied to the surface of the cheese after its made.The reason is to impart flavor  and protect from insects traditionally( Fleur de Maquis,Corsican ewe’s milk cheese rolled in herbs & Juniper berries, or Majorero Pimenton -rolled in smoked pepper).another reason is to lock in moisture-(for example; Valdeon-wrapped in Sycamore leaves, Banon)

Artificial rinds-Added after the cheese is made.  inedible. Includes Gouda, Edam                 (wax),Cheddar ( Plastic) and ash edible in St .Maure for example.

So….these are just the main known categories. When I describe a cheese ,I try to use all the categories that apply, focusing on the ones that characterize  the cheese more than others.

One last example. Describing- Morbier

Origin: Comte region, North East France

Milk: Raw or Pasteurized Cow’s milk.

Texture: Semi hard (40 %-50% water), sliceable.

Method of making : Pressed and ripened,with a layer of ash running through the center.

Smell: mild pungenc

Rind: Natural dry  rind,brushed for firmness.

Aging: 2-3 months

Fat content: 45 %

Interesting facts: This cheese was traditionally made for consumption by the cheesemakers themselves. Leftover curds were put in a tub, then covered with ash to repel insects , while waiting for additional leftover  curds from the evening or the next day.

“Well , and what’s Cheese ? Corpse of Milk!” (James Joyce)

The Cheese Series- Second Chapter

How cheeses are made

There are countless nuances to Cheese making, hence, Different countries produce different cheeses , which reflect the country’s Terroir , traditions and even mentality. Each one of the steps in the process is crucial to the end result ,the way the curds are cut will determine the texture of the cheese, the method and quantities of salting will affect aging or ripening.

The first Two steps of cheese making  however , are common to all cheeses. Essentially, cheese is made by extracting the water and whey from milk and allowing the remaining milk solids ( Curds ) to spoil in a controlled environment, monitoring bacterial growth, expansion of molds throughout the cheese and so on…

First step: Collecting and Preparing the milk

Artisanal cheese makers collect the raw milk from their own farm or nearby farms . That is the traditional way and the best one. Travel time , agitation , temperature and cleanliness of the transport vats are highly important factors to the resulting cheese. Much like wine proximity is crucial. The shortest the time between milking the animal and starting the cheese making process, the better.

A word on : Pasteurization

Not all cheeses are made from pasteurized milk , but for the majority of modern cheeses, this is when the process is applied. The milk is typically heated to a temperature of 160o F for 15 seconds or to a temperature of 114oF and held for 30 minutes. Un-pasteurized cheeses are more flavorful because the heat inactivates natural enzymes in the milk that help develop the final flavor of the cheese . Pasteurization also slows down the action of the Rennet , thus prolonging the ripening/aging step in achieving full texture and flavor. On the other hand, pasteurizing makes the flavor of milk homogenous, which large volume producers seek to maintain consistency of flavor from different batches of milk.

I say, that in the sense of depth of flavor and uniqueness, the difference between cheeses from un-pasteurized milk to those from pasteurized milk is the same as the difference between wines which are non-kosher or kosher to wines that are Mevushal ( Hebrew for: cooked).

Second step: Curdling

Raw milk will actually sour and curdle on its own , but this natural method is inconsistent. Pasteurized milk does not sour this way ,so nowadays all cheeses are made by introducing an acid like lemon juice ( Citric acid) , or vinegar, but in most cases a starter culture of special Bacteria is used to change milk sugars ( lactose ) into lactic acid. The increased acidity denatures the milk protein ( Casein), so it separates from the milk water into solid curds when a coagulating agent  (Rennet) is introduced. The protein molecules then lump together to a soft gel. The curds are allowed to settle at a temperature of 70oF-95oF for 30 minutes-120 minutes, depending on the type of cheese being made. Low tempo yield soft curds for soft cheeses and high tempo yields hard rubbery curds used to produce semi hard and hard cheeses.

Third step: Concentrating and processing the curds

First the curds are cut to release the whey . The method applied here will determine the texture and moisture content of the cheese. Softer cheeses are made by minimal cutting of curds and piling them up to drain naturally . Harder cheeses are cut horizontally and vertically to very fine pieces , thus releasing much more moisture that results in a drier, harder cheese.

Some hard cheeses are then heated to temperatures in the range of 100 °F–130 °F. This forces more whey from the cut curd. It also changes the taste of the finished cheese, affecting both the bacterial culture and the milk chemistry. Cheeses that are heated to the higher temperatures are usually made with thermophilic starter bacteria which survive this step—either lactobacilli or streptococci.

Salt has a number of roles in cheese besides adding a salty flavor. It preserves cheese from spoiling, draws moisture from the curd, and firms up a cheese’s texture in reaction to contact with the denatured proteins. Some cheeses are salted from the outside with dry salt or brine washes. Most cheeses have the salt mixed directly into the curds. Salting also slows down the starter bacteria culture, thus contolling the rate of ripening/Aging.

Processing methods:

Cheddaring: The cut curd is repeatedly piled up, pushing more moisture away. The curd is also milled for a long period of time, taking the sharp edges off the cut curd pieces and influencing the final product’s texture. ( Hence- Cheddar)

Stretching: The curd is stretched and kneaded in hot water, developing a stringy, fibrous body.(For example: Mozzarella , Provolone , Kashkaval).

Washing: The curd is washed in warm water, lowering its acidity and making for a milder-tasting cheese. ( Examples: Gouda,Edam)

Whey based cheeses: Once the whey has been drained,it can be used to make some cheeses ,without the use of curds.( Ricotta,Urda).

Fourth step : Molding

Most cheeses achieve their final shape when the curds are pressed into a mold or form. The harder the cheese, the more pressure is applied. The pressure drives out moisture ,the molds are designed to allow water to escape , and unifies the curds into a single solid body.,%20Molise%202.jpg

Final step :Ripening/ Aging

Ripening/ Aging is the stage where enzymes and microbes change the chemical composition of the cheese from complex organic molecules to simple ones and transform the cheese’s  texture and intensity of flavor. Temperature and humidity are monitored carefully. Some traditional cheese are aged only in near caves which contain unique molds and yeast which result in a one of a kind cheese. More often ,  cultures are used, giving more consistent results and putting fewer constraints on the environment where the cheese ages. These cheeses include soft ripened cheeses such as Brie  and Camembert, blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola,Roquefort,Cabrales,Stilton, and washed rind cheeses such as Taleggio, Grayson.Soft Cheeses- like Brie, Camembert, ripen quickly and at a lower tempo than hard cheeses. Soft cheeses ripen from the outside in. It is all about controlled spoilage here. Bacteria multiplying too quickly results in uneven maturation of the cheese. High humidity ( usually 80%-95%)is crucial to a moist surface in cheese. The ripening/aging period ( called Affinage in French) can last from days to several years.  This transformation is largely a result of the breakdown of casein proteins and milkfat into a complex mix of amino acids,amines and fatty acids.

Enough for today! Next time, Cheese categories!

Cheese: 8000 years in the making! The first chapter in our love affair with manipulating milk


Cheese is one of the most uniquely varied and refined foods in the world. So meticulously formed and perfected in specific regions, we seek them out by origin and romanticize the process and the people making it. We want our Brie and Camembert to be from Îsle-de-France, our Gouda from Holland, our Parmigiano Reggiano from the Emilia Romana region in  Italy….

Cheese making’s true origins have long been forgotten, but many countries claiming the honors. Archaeological findings show it being made and stored in clay jars as far back as 6000 BC. There are murals depicting cheese making in Egyptian tombs from 2000 BC .

Cheese is mentioned in the Bible. For example, as David escaped across the River Jordan he was fed with ‘cheese of kine’ (cows) (2 Samuel 17:29), and it is said that he presented ten cheeses to the captain of the army drawn up to do battle with Saul (1 Samuel 17:18). Moreover, a location near Jerusalem called ‘The Valley of the Cheesemakers‘.

Legends about its origins abound, but one of the most commonly repeated themes is that cheese was accidentally discovered in the Mediterranean by an Arab nomad traveling through the desert.

Legend speaks of the nomad about to embark on a long journey on horseback, filling a saddlebag with milk to sustain him while crossing the desert. After hours of riding the nomad stopped to quench his thirst only to discover that his milk had separated into solid lumps and a watery liquid.

The combined heat, agitation from riding and rennets [rennet is a natural complex of enzymes produced in any mammalian stomach to digest the mother's milk, and is often used in the production of cheese. Rennet contains many enzymes, including a proteolytic enzyme (protease) that coagulates the milk, causing it to separate into solids (curds) and liquid (whey). The active enzyme in rennet is called chymosin or rennin but there are also other important enzymes in it, e.g., pepsin or lipase. There are non-animal sources for rennet that are suitable for vegetarian consumption]. The saddlebag, made of an animal’s stomach parts and lining, caused curdling of the milk and separation into curds and whey.

Cheese, cheese, delicious cheese!

The watery liquid, and the floating whey were found to be drinkable, while the curds were edible and nutritious.

What makes some cheeses kosher? First and foremost, the facility producing the cheese has to comply with kosher rules of food handling and preparation-that is obvious! The above legend gives us another reason… Renin, the enzyme that helps fermentation and coagulation, is a meat byproduct and therefore can only be used under certain conditions in the production of cheese, which is a dairy product. Luckily , nowadays, technology has yielded plant based rennets which are used to create styles of cheese we could have before! Some delicious examples of this type are kosher Parmigiano, Grana Padano, Manchego, etc. Yayyyyy!

Eran Elhalal

The Perfect Braise ! A foolproof guide to mastering this wonderful cooking technique.

Braised Short Ribs

More than once, have i listened to my friends complain about a failed attempt braising short ribs or Lamb Shanks and worst of all, after spending hours preparing,ended up with a dry / stringy / pale /tough piece of meat and finding all that right before the guests arrive.

So today it ends.

Braising is a wonderful way of utilizing the less expensive tougher cuts of meat that usually are not fit for dry cooking methods like brisket,  and chuck or cuts that would require a long slow roast like leg of Lamb,lamb shanks and Beef Short ribs . Moreover a braise can be made a head of time in large quantities , making it a great solution for a big family. In fact, a braise is great the day it’s made , but it is FANTASTIC the next couple of days.

What we sometimes call tough cuts of meat are actually tougher due to the fact that they come from high mobility muscles. To give a simple example- cows stand and graze most of the day,hence their legs,chest and neck muscles are very strong.Strong=Tough.

And now, i’ll take you step by step through Braising. Using Braised Beef Short Ribs:


6 Servings

2 1/2  Lbs short ribs /3-4  Lbs if on the bone. Have your butcher cut the meat to 3-4 incl long pieces,1 1/2 -2 inches wide.

1-1/2 cups dry red wine                                                           Ingredients

1 cup Apple cider

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1  Lb  small red potatoes.If you find large ones,quarter them lengthwise.

2 carrots cut oblique

1 large parsnip sliced thick

2 large onions sliced 3/4 inch thick

2 ribs celery rough chopped                         Browned Short ribs

2-3 sprigs parsley

1 bay leaf

12 black pepper corns

2 Tbsp dark molasses

¼ Tsp smoked paprika

salt to taste

flour for dredging


  1. Turn oven to 450 F and place a heat proof pan or low edged pot inside.( Earthenware or Pyrex are great for this)
  2. Pat the meat dry  , season well then dredge in flour.Heat a cast iron skillet or large heavy stew pot.Add 2 Tbsp oil  and sear well on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  3. In the same skillet brown the  vegetables.and remove.Start by searing the onions
  4. Drain excess fat carefully place the vegetables in the hot Pyrex pan,add tomato paste and mix well with a wooden spoon .We want to coat the vegetables evenly and brown.
  5. Deglaze with wine , then add cider ,molasses herbs and spices.Leave 6-8 minutes in the oven so the liquid starts to reduce.
  6. Add the meat , taste , adjust  seasoning then cover tightly and place in oven.
  7. Lower the heat to 275o F and braise for approx 5 hours. Check to see meat is very tender. Alternatively you can set the oven to 150oF-160oF and braise overnight.Browning the vegetables
  8. Cool well in the pan. the best way is to make an ice-water bath in a clean sink or larger pan. Then, lift away excess fat.
  9. Remove meat potatoes and carrots gently,discrad of the rest . Portion the meat when cold.( This is important ! )  Reheat the cooking liquid and strain well through a fine sieve.

10. Reduce the liquid until a smooth and thick sauce consistency is achieved. add the meat  and vegetables. and simmer      gently in the clear shiny sauce.

Deglaze with red wine

Ready to cover



Chestnut Stuffed Lamb shoulder

Whole Lamb shoulder

I  created this recipe for a recent dinner party i held.

My attitude towards cooking, puts the emphasis on ingredients,rather than the manipulation of them. i.e simple ,rustic creations using highest quality seasonal ingredients.No foams , No dry ices ,No vegetables shaped like flowers or ovals  ( Tourne’e) , losing half the yield and discarding of the sweetest parts in the process.

This recipe is no different, few, but carefully selected ingredients.So, here is the time to mention that the cut of meat i used was a 3 week dry aged full lamb shoulder,that my butcher, Mikey,  in Williamsburg, set aside for me.


445 Graham ave Brooklyn , N.Y 11211 TEL: 718 389 9777 ).

I cannot stress enough the importance of having a good butcher,for many reasons. Mikey lets me go in the walk in and pick out what i want. Also,no matter what culinary education one received , there is always room for practice.So..i also get to debone the thing supervised by an expert!

The recipe:


1 full lamb shoulder (leg and neck included) boneless

chestnuts    1#

shallots       5each

onions        3 each

leek tops          3each

Thyme       1/4 bunch

butter        3 oz

chicken stock  2 cups

salt and pepper to taste


trimming excess fat of f of the lamb shoulder

1. Rub the meat with salt and pepper and rest in the fridge.

2. Roast and peel the chestnuts.

3. Blanch the leeks . Drain excess water well and cut to thin strips. Set aside.

4. Chop the shallots and saute in the butter.Add the chestnuts and thyme.Add 1/4 cup chicken stock and simmer until liquid is evaporated.

5. Set the oven to broil

6. Lay the lamb skin side down and fold leg and neck in . Spread the leeks evenly.Place the shallots and chestnut mix in the center .

stuffing with leeks and chestnuts

7. Roll and truss well.

8. Quarter the onions and place around the lamb in the pan.

9. Broil until the meat is brown around.turn and baste frequently. ( about 15 minutes).

10. Set the oven to 300F , add the remaining stock( hot), cover and braise for 3 hours.

11. Remove from the oven.

12. Before serving.Set the oven to broil ,and crisp up the meat ,turning and basting frequently.

13. Allow to rest before carving.

14. Enjoy!

untying and resting the lamb


Bacon Wrapped Monkfish ! Roy’s Favorite

Mmmmm bacon wrapped Monkfish!

Today I’d like to share with you the dish one of my close friends calls his all-time favorite.

I decided to hold a Sea Feast at my place this week. Not that any reason is required, but a warm summer evening, my sister being in town and also, I may have forgotten Roy’s birthday the week before, but I just forgot a little bit!

my plating notes

The menu:

1.Warm Lobster salad- baby spinach,caramelized peaches. Wine pairing- Spago Nero ,Semi-dry Prosecco, ltaly NV, IGT

warm lobster salad

2. Pan roasted Scallops- over herbs and warm fresh corn. Topped with a shaved radish salad.

seared scallops

Wine pairing – Cantina Gabrielle Pinot Grigio, Italy 2008, IGT

3. Bacon Wrapped Monkfish over braised red cabbage and steamed snow peas.

Wine pairing – Teddy Hall Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch South-Africa 2008

4. Jacqueline’s Peach and Cranberry crisp. Wine pairing-Pacific Rim,Vin De Glaciere,Riesling.Columbia Valley, Washington, U.S.A 2007.

Jacqueline's peach crisp

Now, before we get to the dish at hand, a word about bacon. Bacon is a food group!

Well, not really from a nutritional standpoint (I realize it’s mostly fat, very little protein and some salts), but from a culinary standpoint – IT MAKES EVERYTHING TASTE BETTER!

Beautiful, flavorful fat/oil, smokiness, salt and that crispy texture….can I make it any more clear?

Bacon Wrapped Monkfish

6 servings


1 large Monkfish tail, separated to 2 filets, membrane cleaned and portioned (5-6 oz each).

12 oz bacon, sliced

3 Tbsp oil/clarified butter

salt & pepper to taste


1. Heat the oven to 425 F.

wrapped and trussed !

2. Pat the filets dry, season and wrap with bacon.

3.Truss the bacon with butcher’s twine.

4. Saute in two batches, just to color and crisp on all sides.

browning the fish

5. Finish in the oven

6. Remove from the oven, untie and slice

7. Serve over braised red cabbage and steamed snow peas.

8. Enjoy.Roy (B-day boy),Shiri,Noam


Feasters-Jacqueline(crisp girl! right,Maya my sister)

Jorge La Mejor ! Cuba 2008

A country’s indigenous foods are every bit a part of it’s identity as the native tongue. Therefore, I always seek out the markets, specialty produce, game, fish, crustaceans and find out where the locals eat.

So..that is also how I traveled Cuba last year. Due to Cuba’s socialist regime, the country tries to manufacture and grow everything they can in-house. Therefore, as far as food goes, the cuisine remained authentic and the ingredients are all local and almost always seasonal.

buthcher shop in the Cienfuegos market

Habana Vieja market

Now I tried many local delicacies, dined in restaurants on the street and at the beach, but the best Cuban food I had, was made by Senor Jorge Pinero at his house in Cienfuegos.

Jorge Le Mejor !

In Cuba, tourists can stay with local families in most places. This type of hospitality is called Casa Particular which quite plainly means someone’s particular home. When I reached Cienfuegos i had already read that Jorge was an avid cook but did not know what to expect.

Jorge Pinero turned out to be a fascinating man, a fantastic cook, a diver, a fisherman, a bartender, a grandfather and a great new friend. The first thing that caught my eye in the house was the outdoor oven and smoker which Jorge built by hand, of course! It is a wood burning oven about 4 feet high so you can also hang-roast or smoke. It has a thermometer installed in the door, which is made of two heavy copper plates made from fused shells and cartridges from a an old factory nearby. I later discovered that there were bits of ingenuity put to use all over the  house, but the ones for kitchen use…unbelievable. Senor Pinero purifies his own drinking water through a  limestone basin drip system, dries and smokes his own meats and even created a special tool designed to score lobster tails evenly.

Jorge's Oven/Smoker

Heavy copper door! beautiful!Lobster scorer! paralel razors.So cool!

I quickly developed a daily routine in Cienfuegos that consisted of a hearty home-cooked breakfast followed by a day of diving , sun and sightseeing. But then, every evening I would come home to a completely different feast. Amazing food made just for me and generous enough for 5 of me. All this, and I mean all this for less than $9 each night! Some of the meals were a whole smoked chicken and the snapper (that monster was for me alone too!). Later Jorge would fix us drinks and we’d sit and talk into the night.

Dinner 4.....1 ?

Yep! just for me!Mmmm dinner!

Pescado magnifico! Senor Jorge!

Guava leaf smoked chicken! oh yes!

I can’t wait to go again!

Champion! a king among rotweillers.beautiful and kindDelicious Rum in Habana.cheers!