700 Biltmore Way
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Biography »

Joy Johnson: Why did you start cooking? Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
Carmen Gonzalez: When I was 8 I knew I wanted to be a chef and own a restaurant. I come from a small town in Puerto Rico, and it was a mystery to everyone where my interest came from.

JJ: Where did you train?
CG: I owned a restaurant in Puerto Rico when I was 22, and then went to the New York Restaurant School.

JJ: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool? Why?
CG: A fish spatula -- I cannot live without it.

JJ: What cities do you like for culinary travel? Why?
CG: New York, Paris, and San Francisco, because of the quality of food and variety of restaurants. In Paris there are so many restaurants, even unknown ones, where you can get great food. In Europe they use different ingredients and techniques than in the US, and I always learn.

JJ: What are your favorite food haunts in Miami?
CG: I like to visit my friends’ restaurants to support them and say hello.

JJ: What is your favorite spice? Why?
CG: I like cilantro because it is so fresh and clean.

JJ: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or use in an unusual way?
CG: I use a wooden mortar to mash and soften food, specifically, plantains for my mofongo.

JJ: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential line cook?
CG: Why do you like cooking? What’s the most important thing when you go out to eat? What is your favorite ingredient?

JJ: What advice do you have for culinary students starting out?
CG: Don’t think that you know everything. Chefs continue to learn every day. I interviewed a culinary student who told me he was overqualified for the position. He hadn’t even graduated yet.

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Carmen the Restaurant | Coral Gables, FL

Good things come in small packages, and Carmen Gonzalez is proof of that age-old phrase. After training in New York and gaining experience early on at the acclaimed Quilted Giraffe, Gonzalez relocated to Miami and has built her reputation plate by plate over the past 13 years. In 2003 she opened her eponymous fine dining restaurant in Coral Gables, where her dishes reverberate with the flavors of her Puerto Rican heritage. One taste of Carmen’s post-New American fare, with its distinct Latino flavor, will cure any foodie’s case of restaurant burnout.

Slow Roasted Adobo Marinated Niman Ranch Pernil with Sweet Plantain Fufu and Gandules Stew

Chef Carmen Gonzalez of Carmen the Restaurant - Coral Gables, FL
Adapted by StarChefs

Yield: 6 Servings


  • 1 (5 to 6 pound) Niman Ranch pernil (pork shoulder)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
    Sweet plantain fufu:
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ripe plantains
  • ¼ pound high fat butter (such as Plugra), chilled and cut in 2-inch squares
  • ¼ cup warm heavy cream
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
    Gandules stew:
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pork tenderloin, small dice
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, minced
  • 1 medium hot chili pepper, minced (Chef Gonzalez prefers cubanello peppers)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 ounces frozen gandules (pigeon peas)
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 charred tomato, peeled and minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups chicken stock
For marinade:
Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl. Rub the pork with marinade, place in a container, cover and keep in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours.

For sweet plantain mash:
In a stockpot bring water and salt to a boil. Peel plantains using a paring knife. Cut them first lengthwise removing the vein from the center of the plantain, then in 4-inch pieces. Cook until plantains are soft. Drain plantains and pass them through a ricer. In a mixing bowl combine the riced plantains with the butter. Whip plantains, slowly adding the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper.

For gandules:
In a stockpot set to medium heat, sauté diced pork tenderloin and onion in olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add the peppers and garlic; cook for two minutes. Add the gandules, cilantro, tomato and bay leaf, and mix thoroughly. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, and reduce heat. Continue simmering for another 30–45 minutes or until the gandules are soft. Check for seasoning.

For pernil:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat two Tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan on high heat, add the pork and sauté on all sides until the meat turns golden brown. Remove from heat and finish cooking in oven for about 3 to 3-1/2 hours, or until the skin is very crispy, turning pernil every hour. Remove pork from oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes; slice diagonally.

To serve:
Place ¼ cup of the gandules stew in the center of a large pasta or soup bowl. Mound sweet plantain mash in the center of the gandules and fan the sliced pernil in front of the sweet plantain mash. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Interview Cont'd

JJ: What is your favorite meal to prepare?
CG: Dishes can become so routine after a while, so I enjoy creating new dishes.

JJ: What is your favorite ingredient to experiment with?
CG: Fresh fish, root vegetables, and sauces.

JJ: What is your most memorable experience with food?
CG: When I was about 8 years old, on the beach in Puerto Rico, a fisherman’s wife prepared fish. She cleaned, cut and fried it in a large pot on the sand. She served it to me with fresh limejuice and tostones.

JJ: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
CG: In 5 years, still in Miami. In 10 years, in Paris opening a restaurant.

 Published: October 2004