Chef Juan Jose Cuevas & Puerto Rico’s Locavore Movement
We are constantly bombarded by fast food ads that flaunt juicy burgers and perfectly cut fries. Frozen TV dinners line the grocery store aisle, many labeled as ‘light’ and ‘low-fat’. What is not explicit is that these pre-packaged, frozen meals are actually high in sodium and sugar. Despite our intention to snack on some crisp carrots or get our dose of vitamins A and C from a nutritious spinach salad, we often spot that tasty-looking burger from the ads. Sautéed mushrooms and onions make it healthy, right? Well, not quite!
What does this it all mean and why should you care? It means that we often fill our bodies with processed foods low in nutritional value. If foods have to travel far to reach you, more fuel is used, further depleting our resources and polluting our planet. Now you can explain that sheer disappointment you feel when you bite into a perfectly looking apple and it is practically tasteless. It’s because it was picked too early, so that it didn’t spoil during its long journey to you.
I believe most of us really do want to be healthy and we certainly want our food to taste delicious. By buying local produce you consume foods low in preservatives, support your local economy and reduce your carbon footprint. This makes you a locavore and an advocate of the movement, which is rapidly growing in Puerto Rico. For decades, the Island, its chefs and locals depended mostly on imported goods from the U.S. In recent years, we’ve been experiencing a shift towards a farm to table movement and a more sustainable economy. Since the locavore movement encourages consumption of food grown within 100 miles from the point of purchase, Puerto Rico (at about 100 miles long), is the perfect place to embrace this essential movement.
One Chef at the forefront of the locavore movement in Puerto Rico is Chef Juan Jose Cuevas. The executive chef of the Condado Vanderbilt hotel and the mastermind behind 1919, Chef Cuevas is a firm believer and agent of the locavore movement. He poses the question: “Why not invest the money that people spend at the restaurant in us and in our economy?” At 1919, Chef Cuevas has 100% creative freedom in his menu development, an unlikely case for many restaurants within hotels. He works with over 10 local farms, which source him with local greens, eggplant (the Chef’s favorite veggie), passion fruit, zucchini, beans, honey and more. The menu changes 4-5 times a year to incorporate the local fruits and veggies in season. Even though we have a longer growing season in Puerto Rico than in most states, there is a season and it needs to be respected. If you are serving avocados 365 days a year, they simply can’t always be local.
Following suit, the other restaurants within the property, like Ola, also take part in the farm to table concept. “We have to send the same message across the hotel, we have to be one family,” states Chef Cuevas. Remember those grape and strawberry marmalades at every hotel chain in America? Oh gosh, what horror. If you have breakfast at the property, you’ll encounter local marmalades like papaya, pineapple, soursop, mango and coconut. Pass me some toast now!
Sure, chowing down on your favorite pizza and washing it down with a coke will provide you with a few moments of satisfaction, but it’s definitely not healthy. By supporting the locavore movement, everyone wins. From the farmer, to the chef to you!
Paulina Salach / 11.2015