(Photos/Courtesy of Douglas Rodriguez)

SOBE FOOD FEST: Cuban chef Douglas Rodriguez

Trying to interview chef Douglas Rodriguez at his South Beach restaurant a couple of days before the beginning of the annual Food & Wine Festival here is something like trying to chat with Don Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding—no way around it, you’re going to get interrupted. Just as Rodriguez sits with me on a couch in the lobby bar at DeRodriguez Cuba on Ocean, his deeply personal homage to food from his parent’s homeland, the parade of people starts. One person approaches with a bounty: an almost-impossible-to-get-in-America 5 lb cochinillo, which will be perfectly roasted to make sweet suckling pig. Another with a problem: a big fish that’s been over-frozen which Rodriguez, uncompromising in his desire for quality ingredients, insists will be returned. Another, a kitchen employee, arrives with nothing but a humble hand shake: “Chef,” the man says. “Are you having a good day?”

A good day? Try a good decade. Or two. After all, this is the Godfather of the Nuevo Latino Cuisine craze that swept kitchens across America in the 1990s and that’s still going strong. It’s a movement Rodriguez himself sparked when he was all of 24, fresh out of culinary school and running his first restaurant, Miami’s uber-hot Yuca. His creativity—and dogged dedication to elevating Latino cuisine—earned him the Rising Chef of the Year award from the James Beard Foundation. That was all he needed to convince him to take his skills to New York City, where he became Executive Chef and co-owner of the legendary Patria restaurant, which quickly turned into the unofficial laboratory for every young Hispanic kid who was serious about cooking. “They’ve all worked with me,” Rodriguez said. “Aaron Sanchez, Alex Garcia, Jose Garces…they all came through my kitchens when they were starting. And it’s great because we’re all still friends.”

Now 46, Rodriguez has returned to Miami, where he grew up and from where he runs his restaurants on South Beach, and in Philadelphia and Scottsdale, AR. But it’s his role as husband and father to two sons, one is 11 the other 16, and a daughter, 13, that he relishes most. “I cook for them at home all the time,” he says. “And I cook them whatever they want. If each one wants a different kind of pasta, I make three kinds pasta.” Could it be that the culinary world’s baddest Latino cook is totally whooped by his kids? “Sort of,” he admits, an impish smile spreading across his full cheeks. “But I know exactly how to get them out of bed in the morning—with bacon.”
He’ll surely know how to wake up the 350 people who will join him and protege Aaron Sanchez on the Food Festival’s Brunch at Sea Sunday morning where the two stars will be whipping up arepas, ceviches and much more. Here’s a recipe for the tuna watermelon ceviche Rodriguez will be serving.

SOBE FOOD FEST: Cuban chef Douglas Rodriguez tumblr lzwznfanrR1r1767o food NBC Latino News

Tuna Watermelon Ceviche

For the marinade:

5 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

3 tablespoon sambal oleck

2 tablespoon Lemon oil

1 ½ tablespoon yuzu juice

2 tablespoon salt

For the garnish:

1 tablespoon fresh basil, sliced 1/8-inch strips

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon

1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion

1 pound cente –cut boneless ahi tuna, cut into 1/4-inch dice

9 ounces cubed (¼-inch) fresh ripe seedless watermelon

2 tablespoon candied kumquats in syrup
In a large non-reactive bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients. Gently fold in the garnish ingredients, the tuna, watermelon, and kumquats, and serve immediately.

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