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This week on Let’s Go, South Florida host Arlene Borenstein visits La Cosinita Latina restaurant in West Palm Beach.
Watch Let’s Go, South Florida: As our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage continues, we are recognizing a Puerto Rican-born chef who transports the flavors of his island to West Palm Beach. Chef Max Lucena has created the menu at La Cosinita Latina from his own family recipes. His main ingredient, he’ll tell you, is love.
Chef Max Lucena’s house made crunchy pork skins crushed into fried, smashed plantains and hit with a spiced butter sauce makes a mofongo you can’t find just anywhere.
“I cook here like I took you to my house. Like you would go into a Puerto Rican house to eat, not a commercial kitchen. No corners cut,” said the chef-owner of La Cosinita Latina in West Palm Beach. Lucena deliberately changed the spelling of cocinita (small kitchen), replacing the second “c” for an “s” to represent the word “sabor” or “flavor” in Spanish.
The family-owned, 2,000 square foot restaurant on South Congress Avenue has made the island’s traditional side dish the star of the menu for six years.
Mofongo, a dish hat brings together Puerto Rico’s Spanish, Taino and African influences, starts with fried plantains that are mashed with seasonings and other ingredients in a pilón. At La Cosinita, it can be ordered with a number of different proteins including garlic shrimp, lobster or steak seasoned with peppers. You can watch the chef in action making mofongo on this week’s Let’s Go, South Florida.
“I buy every day. I pick my own tomatoes, lettuce, peppers … one by one. Everything fresh, bought each morning,” said Lucena, who’s from the San Juan barrio Cupey.
The kitchen is so small, commercial-sized freezers don’t fit, and that’s the way the chef says he prefers it. The staff is also small, including his wife, daughter, son-in-law and close-knit family friends.
“Between me and my wife, 80-90 hours a week.” That’s how much time he says they spend at the home-style restaurant cooking other traditional Puerto Rican dishes, like bacalaitos (cod fish fritters), pasteles (similar to tamales) and the island’s national dish, arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas).
“The love we put in what we do here. The main ingredient is love,” Lucena says. “That’s what you feel when you bite into the food. We do it with love, with care.”
La Cosinita Latina is on 2480 S. Congress Ave., West Palm Beach. Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 561-345-2382, lacosinitalatina.com