If you haven’t heard of Jose Enrique, the talented young chef who has focused the gourmet culinary world’s attention on Puerto Rico, now’s the time to get with the program. We spoke with the chef, whose list of accolades includes progression to the 2013 James Beard Award semifinals for “Best Chef South,” and a Food and Wine “Best New Chef” award this year. Enrique already owns two restaurants and a honey/coffee shop called Miel, and is getting ready to open up his new restaurant, El Blok, in Vieques, Puerto Rico. We chatted with him about his new ventures.
Can you tell me a little bit about your new restaurant, Blok, and how it will be different from your other restaurants?
I think [my other restaurant] Jose Enrique feels more urban… El Blok is across the street from the beach and feels more tropical. As far as dishes, there will be more salads with raw plating and plates will be colder. Everything will be grilled and we will be playing around with smoke and mesquite. There will be a few core entrees and 15-20 appetizers on a daily basis. I want to do a Caribbean charcuterie board with a smoked prawn salad, snapper, and lobster sausage.
As you were the first Puerto Rican chef nominated for “Best Chef South” by James Beard, we clearly have a lot to learn about Puerto Rican food. How would you describe food trends in your country?
I think it’s great that you have all of these islands, and you will see the difference between them. The cuisines are very different because of the different heritages. That’s what is beautiful about Puerto Rican food. As for trends, it’s all about finding these growers, and grabbing something out of the soil and having it on your plate a few hours later.
That’s very true. I often have heard that you will change the menu in the middle of service because a farmer or fisherman comes in with a new ingredient. What are the challenges behind changing a menu every day, or sometimes more than that?
There are three or four things you will usually find on my menu every day, like beef stew, grilled chicken, beans and plantains. But if I have a guy come in who just got fresh swordfish, I will run over the market and I will get ingredients to make up a dish to put on the menu on the spot. From the beginning you have to say, “well I’m only going to have, say, six great items on the menu today,” instead of 12 mediocre ones.
What is the idea behind Miel, one of your newest ventures?
My honey is Puerto Rican honey; you have a lot of people around here who raise bees. At Miel, I try to have only Puerto Rican coffee, local fruit, and honey. I wish I was able to actually raise the bees myself!
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi