Cuba still feels like an undiscovered country for most Americans, and many now want to travel there as restrictions ease. Cuba Libre's chef Guillermo Pernot wants to help introduce them to his country's food.
While airlines are readying charter flights and cruise lines are preparing ships to meet the new demand, Chef Pernot will take a break from his Penn Quarter and Philadelphia restaurants to lead a tour group to some of the best eats on the island, including an organic farm and Havana’s top paladares (family-run restaurants often operated inside private homes).
"In Havana, they don’t eat like in Miami," Pernot said. "No huge plates piled up. Cubans are more select, the portions are smaller and flavor more pure. The new style is more modern and innovative, with beautiful presentation. But if you make a dish different from what Cubans in the United States expect, they complain it’s not like their mother’s cooking."
That’s why the menu at Cuba Libre is divided into classics (like stewed beef Ropa Vieja) and more modern dishes such (like Citrus-Grilled Brick Chicken with mango sweet and sour gravy). The varied cuisine reflects many periods of history and influences, from Chinese and English to Haitian, French and even Russian.
The island still faces many limitations. "The power goes out," he said. "There was no butter one week I went to Havana. No potatoes last time I went. The chefs there have to adapt. Menus are planned based on available ingredients." So when traveling to Cuba, a tourist needs a sense of adventure. "Don’t expect New York or DC," he said. "After all, it’s still Havana."
But those interested in the cuisine don't have to travel there to experience some of the classics. Here's where to find the cuisine in D.C. right now: