Reclaiming Puerto Rico’s Food Paradise



PR food

VIEQUES, P.R. —  The sun was starting to recline on the horizon, but as the chef Jose Enrique slid a beaten-up Ford Explorer into a parking space here at an easygoing beachside hotel called El Blok, he admitted that his menu for this Saturday evening was still up in the air. What would he be cooking?

“I have no clue,” he said, and laughed. “We’ll see. I kind of like it that way. I think it makes me more creative.”
Mr. Enrique and Katie Savage, his chef de cuisine at the hotel, tend to wing it based on whatever baskets of fruit, bags of vegetables and buckets of seafood come their way. Dinner that night would overflow with lobster ceviche, a conch salad spooned into steaming pockets of fried bread, a dip spun from eggplants that had been smoked over the wood of wild mesquite trees, a pork chop brushed with sugar-cane juice. Toward the end would come a sweet, coral-hued sphere of guava ice.

Where did the guavas come from? Mr. Enrique motioned toward the window. The fruit tree stood right outside.

Mr. Enrique, 37, is a leader in a movement of loosely affiliated Puerto Rican cooks, farmers and activists who have arrived at the same realization over the last few years: There’s a juicy gastronomic paradise at their fingertips, and all they have to do is reach out and grab it. San Juan restaurants like Parcela Gastropub, La Jaquita Baya, Santaella, Marmalade and Jose Enrique (the chef’s namesake spot in the humming Santurce neighborhood); a pioneering farm-to-tote-bag enterprise called El Departamento de la Comida; and the Hacienda San Pedro coffee company are all promulgating a new way of thinking that reintroduces Puerto Rican diners and shoppers to the buried treasures of their home island.
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