Chef Alberto Cabrera
Formerly of Karu Restaurant & Y | Miami
Born and bred in Miami, Alberto Cabrera spent a decade working in
the kitchens of some of Miami’s top restaurants before taking
his first executive chef position at Karu Restaurant & Y.
Cabrera has no formal culinary education – instead he traveled
throughout the US and Europe, living and cooking, before returning
to Miami in 1996 and getting a position at Baleen with
Robbin Haas. He spent four years working his way up to chef de cuisine
at Baleen before moving on to work with Chef Norman Van
Aken at Norman’s. Two years later, in 2002, Cabrera
moved on to the short-lived but phenomenal La Broche, the
stateside outpost of Sergi Arola’s famous Madrid restaurant.
Cabrera worked under chef Angel Palacios, a protégé
of Ferran Adria, and was schooled in the techniques and philosophies
of alta cocina.
Cabrera reunited with Robbin Haas at Chispa before opening his own catering company, where he caught the eye of the future owners of Karu & Y. Cabrera’s menu was elegant and exciting, permeated with well-executed alta cocina techniques and ideas. Karu & Y has recently closed, but we have high expectations for the future of this sophisticated, self-assured, talented young chef.
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WB: Did you attend culinary school?
No I did not. But I think the CIA is a phenomenal school
– it prepares kids for the realities they have to face, and
exposes them to good chefs. Some schools are a little outdated and
don’t do a good job of preparing people for the reality, but
on a whole, school is a plus. Right now about 40% of my kitchen
went to culinary school.
WB: Who are your mentors? What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from them?
AC: I have three major mentors.
Robbin Haas was one of the toughest chefs to work with because he
expected so much of you. He’d tell me that at this level,
cooking was pretty much the least of your worries. If you’re
a good chef, the creative part will come easily. But you have to
know how to run the business. Norman Van Aken was another mentor
– he ran such a well-organized kitchen, and people loved working
for him. He’s talented at the marketing and business side
of things too. And third, Angel Palacios – he turned food
upside down for me. I was used to delegating and having prep cooks,
but with him you cared for the product from beginning to end. You
put more appreciation into things when you’re caring for products
WB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
AC: My philosophy is dictated by what by whatever concept I am trying at the time, and by the reactions of my clients. My philosophy changes but my standards don’t.
WB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like? Why?
AC: Spanish olive oil. I use it in everything, like in lemon sorbet, for example. It has great flavor.
WB: What flavor combinations do you favor?
AC: I love the combination of foie gras and coffee. The bitterness and the fattiness go really well together. We get our foie from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and usually marinate it in Pedro Ximenez. I also like mixing seafood with different charcuteries, like broiled or sous vide cod with Serrano ham.
WB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
AC: The Thermomix. Everybody wants one. I have two that are broken and have to go to Germany to get fixed. I have Vita-Preps too, but the Thermomix is a great piece of machinery. We use it for everything.
WB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
AC: The simple question is: do you want to cook? Do you want to spend 80 hours a week cooking? It’s a simple question. If you aren’t prepared to put in the hours, day and night, it’s not going to happen.
WB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
AC: Give it time and have patience. Don’t lose your cool when your first chef eats you for lunch because you did something wrong. When you’re young, it’s easy to be a hothead – but it’s best to put your head down and show you’re working. It’s hard for a young guy to understand that there are owners you have to listen to. You can’t do what you want when someone else is paying the bill. At the end of the day, if you do people right and take care of their business, you are going to end up with your own place and it will be a success.
WB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
AC: I like Clorofilia
by Andoni Luis Aduriz, and I think The French Laundry cookbook
has opened a lot of peoples’ eyes. The CIA books are indispensable,
and you can’t talk about cookbooks without mentioning the
el Bulli books. They take you to another dimension.
WB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
AC: Barcelona and Chicago are
my two favorite. I also love NYC, but I love it more as a place
to eat at small, cultural places. Chicago, to me, is where all the
young chefs are and they are doing the most interesting stuff in
the country, [even though] the the Midwest is not the savviest crowd.
Miami is not a great culinary city, but there is a core group of
chefs that are trying to elevate the level of food and dining.
WB:What is your fondest food memory?
AC: Eating at Alinea. I saw a perfect blend of innovation, product, and making sure that the basics are covered. The flavors are so intense and perfect. If you’re getting a piece of braised short rib at Alinea, it’s braised to perfection.
WB: What are your favorite restaurants –off the beaten path – in your city?
AC: Domo Japones – I went there other night. The food and design are great.
WB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry?
AC: Locally, the local media is starting to support more than they have in the past. And people are open to bigger menus and spending more time dining. Usually they’d just come here to party, but now they want to incorporate the dining experience into their night. In a less positive development, we’ve had some big corporations come into the area and knock out some of the good, small, local stuff.
Internationally, South America is starting to embrace some of the new styles of cooking and new ingredients. It’s traditionally been all about peasant or rustic food. But now Argentineans are eating at el Bulli.
WB: What does success look like for you?
AC: Ultimate success would be to consult for a couple of restaurants. But I wouldn’t want to spread myself too thin, and I would like the have a home base: maybe 80-100 seats, where I can have live entertainment at the end of the night. I love hearing a horn blow and need to have that around. That, to me, is what’s important. I don’t have to be millionaire; I just have to have a good family and some successful businesses.
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