The Art of Latin Cooking

Monica Parpal |
Culinary Personalities

What inspired you to pursue a career as a chef?

While living in Venezuela, I was a tour guide and would prepare lunches and snacks for the groups I led. While shopping for ingredients, the vibrant, fresh produce at the local farmers’ markets caught my attention, along with freshly-baked goods at local bakeries. On my days off, I would cook for my family and friends. This led me to seek out a career in the culinary world.

 

Before Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, you worked at well-known restaurants Alma de Cuba and El Rey in Philadelphia. What's different about cooking in Miami?

Since Miami has a tropical climate, I enjoy being able to use ingredients at any time of year instead of waiting for the change in seasons.

 

What are some of your favorite ingredients to use during this time of year in Miami?

Spaghetti squash, boniato, and mushrooms.

 

How would you describe the cuisine at WKB?

The cuisine at WKB fuses Latin cultures by using ingredients from different countries, along with different techniques. The spices used in cooking Latin foods are robust and flavorful and add liveliness to any dish. I enjoy preparing plates using methods like confit (inspired by the French), brining, braising, et cetera.

 

Are there any dishes on the menu that take you back to your childhood?

Yes, there are a few dishes on the menu that reflect my Venezuelan heritage and were staples in my household. My mother and aunt used to cook for my family and prepared certain dishes when we had company over or hosted family reunions. A few of my favorites are the chicken ropa vieja empanadas, which is fried pastry dough stuffed with shredded spiced chicken; maduros or sweet plantains, a side dish my mother used to make for my family on a regular basis; the queso frito or fried cheese, which I top with paprika sausage, crispy cilantro, and salsa at WKB; and soon-to-be on the menu, the tequeños—breaded dough filled with white cheese.

 

The restaurant itself is adorned in bold, striking artwork. In what ways does the art influence the dining experience, or vice versa?

The dishes I create are vibrant and have a lot of natural colors, which coincide with the restaurant’s surroundings. For example, the Wynwood Salad was somewhat modeled after the Christian Awe paintings featured in the restaurant’s main dining room.

 

Do you have a favorite piece of art in the restaurant?

Yes, the David Sherry sculpture in the dining room window. It's a sculpture of a very tall, slender, colorful man. The sheer presence of the piece demands attention because of its height and unusual features. I like to think that it reflects the ambience and the menu at WKB because it’s simple yet captivating, and it resonates with our guests, who enjoy art and can appreciate how food reflects it.

 

What can guests look forward to at WKB as we head into 2014?

We add new items to the menu a few times throughout the year. Guests can look forward to dinner collaborations with popular artists, local breweries opening in the area, and special events. Next year, I’d like to bring back our popular “Taste of the Americas” series (for a limited time), showcasing the cuisine of a Latin American country.