Host Arlene Borenstein visits Cuba Libre on Las Olas and talks to chef/owner Guillermo Pernot who is introducing modern Cuban cuisine to South Florida.
In this week’s episode of Let’s Go, South Florida: We show you Cuban food like you’ve never had it before. Two-time James Beard award winner Guillermo Pernot explains why his dishes at Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar in Fort Lauderdale are so different, yet some of the most authentic to present-day Cuba.
The chef-partner of Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar in Fort Lauderdale wants to take you on a culinary journey through the island you likely haven’t been on before.
“You are going to see recipes you say to yourself, oh my god, guacamole Cubano? What’s that? But that is very much from Cienfuegos. [They] grow pineapple, avocado, lime juice and peppers and herbs,” said Guillermot Pernot, a two-time James Beard Award winning chef who is a partner in all five of the Cuba Libre restaurants around the country. The Fort Lauderdale location at 800 E. Las Olas Blvd. opened in April.
Pernot has dedicated much of his career to the study of Cuban food and culture, despite being from Argentina. His wife of 29 years, Lucia, is from the island and Pernot has traveled to Cuba each year since 2012, sometimes twice.
“My wife says I have spent more time in Cuba then she has all her life. I am Cuban by osmosis,” said Pernot, who has maintained strong relationships with chefs on the island by cooking with them inside restaurants, homes and farms to learn about their evolving cuisine.
“Cuba is not just Havana,” he said. “Cuba has many regions. Cubans said, we don’t eat spicy food, but those are Havaneros, meaning people from Havana. When you go to the east part of the island, you have a huge Haitian influence, the food becomes spicy … you also see them cooking with chocolate, coconut oil, coconut milk and almonds.”
There are some classics on the Cuba Libre menu but there will be present-day twists. The arroz con pollo will have a hard boiled egg on top, which is what Pernot says people are doing on the island now, with a sprinkle of beer on top.
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Weekend brunch is expected to launch June 26 with a clear-cut fusion of flavors including a pollo y waffle and a Cubano pork fried rice.
“My mission is to show Americans that Cuban food is not only picadillo, rice and beans,” Pernot said. “Cuban food is a combination of different cultures that have collapsed over the years. We have the Indian culture…Tainos. We have the Spanish culture, the French culture, the English culture, the Haitian culture, the Chinese culture, the Russian culture and the American culture. They all collapsed in one island and you see it in their food.”
Much of Cuba Libre’s cuisine is inspired by small restaurants on the island called paladares that are challenged by the communist government’s food limitations.
“When you go to the market you never know what you are not going to find and you have to be really creative. That is why a lot of paladares, the menus are written on chalkboards,” the chef said. “This is fascinating because they make things out of nothing and that is the essence of Cuba. That they are so willing to do something right and do it no matter what it takes.”
Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar is at 800 E Las Olas Blvd, Fort Lauderdale. Hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Saturday and Sunday hours extend until 11 p.m. Brunch begins June 26, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday