Puerto Rico's culinary scene has never been better. International food festivals,world-class restaurants, and a cuisine that has a fascinating heritage that blends eras and cultures all make for serious fun when you want to dine out on the island. But perhaps you didn't know just how good Puerto Rico's chefs really are. In fact, you might have seen one or two of them, even if you've never visited Puerto Rico. Let me introduce three of the best in the business, world-renowned masters of their craft who have appeared on the Food Network's most popular programs.
Three notes on this list: First, I've omitted internationally acclaimed chefs who opened branches of their restaurants here (like Alain Ducasse's miX on the Beach), preferring to stick to home-grown talent. Second, I realize that appearing on the Food Network, in and of itself, doesn't catapult anyone to "best chef" status ... but in my book it certainly doesn't hurt. And finally, I haven't (yet) dined at every restaurant on the island. Is there a wise old lady sitting in an aluminum hut in a remote corner of the island cooking the absolute best Puerto Rican food on the planet? Quite possibly. But as I haven't met her yet, I'll stick to the folks I know. And they're pretty good.
The first time I hung out with Chef Wilo, I learned a few things about the man. For one, he's got an almost unhealthy love for corned beef. For another, he's a pretty gifted photographer. And third, he's about as down to earth a master chef as you'll find.
And make no mistake, Chef Wilo is a master. In fact, he was on Season One of Bravo TV's Top Chef Masters. A CIA graduate with an enviable pedigree, Wilo has kept his cooking firmly grounded in the traditions and warmth of his home kitchen. At his stellar restaurants, the elegant and upscale Pikayo and the more casual meat-lover's Varita, Chef Wilo is not afraid to use ingredients like corned beef and pegao (the hard, clumpy rice you scrape off the side of the pot) to author outstanding and inventive dishes. And that's Wilo in a nutshell. He pushes the envelope and reinvents what Rican cuisine is all about ... even as he stays true to his boricua roots.
Did You Know ...
Chef Wilo has his own wine label, DOBLEÚ, which was recognized by Wine Spectator’s Robert Parker as a "Best Buy" in the 2009 edition of Wine Advocate.
When discussing Puerto Rico's most famous culinary minds, you pretty much have to mention Roberto Treviño in the same sentence as Chef Wilo. The man behind the simply scrumptious Budatai and the innovative Bar Gitano is no stranger to The Food Network. The exuberant, congenial Treviño took on Mario Batali in Iron Chef America and was a contestant on The Next Iron Chef.
Did You Know ...
Chef Treviño calls San Juan home, but he was born and raised in San Francisco.
Guess who was also a contestant on the Next Iron Chef? Yup, it was Mario Pagán, who once manned the helm at one of Puerto Rico's most celebrated culinary destinations, Chayote (which has since closed). He can now be found at the Thai-inspired Lemongrass (which, honestly, wasn't my favorite), and at Laurel, at the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico in Santurce.
Did You Know ...
Chef Pagán trained under another renowned Puerto Rican chef, Alfredo Ayala, who founded Chayote and eventually sold it to his protege.