A guide to Puerto Rico’s farm-to-table restaurant movement

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A growing number of Puerto Rican chefs and restaurateurs are turning to local ingredients and making dining on the island more sustainable.

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FFrom the streets of San Juan to the Cayey Mountains, there’s a culinary movement underway in Puerto Rico that’s making dining on the Caribbean island more sustainable.

The devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 amplified the need for Puerto Rico to focus on building its own reliable food system, in case another natural disaster strikes again. the hurricane caused power outages lasting several months and about $2 billion agricultural damage, while creating serious delays in the external supply chains on which the island is heavily dependent. On 80% of food consumed in Puerto Rico traditionally comes from abroad, the majority of them from the continental United States.

VSPuerto Rican hefs and restaurateurs have begun to address these challenges by partnering with farmers to source as many local ingredients as possible. “We are fighting power outages, water, government. . . creating a sustainable environment therefore also creates a shield against these variables,” says Carlos Portela, chef and owner of Orujo, a gourmet restaurant in San Juan.

More restaurants and B&Bs are opening outside of San Juan, especially in areas where chefs – and their guests – may be closer to the source of ingredients such as breadfruit, taro root and pumpkin, which appear on menus in innovative ways. manners.

“As well as supporting local farmers, we also source locally made desserts and coffee. It’s important for us to keep the economy flowing in our communities,” says Jorge Casas, co-owner of O-Markta product distributor with a farm-to-table fast-casual restaurant concept in the cities of Caguas, Cupey and Guaynabo.

With this new focus on sustainable agriculture and a culinary story featuring Indigenous, European and African influences – there is never been a more exciting time to dine in Puerto Rico. Here are some ways travelers can experience the new wave of sustainability-conscious Puerto Rican chefs and restaurateurs.

Book a pop-up dinner at El Pretexto

Nestled in the emerald mountains of Cayey, The pretext is a quiet mountain farm with a strong culinary focus. El Pretexto opened in 2017, just before Hurricane Maria dealt a devastating blow to Puerto Rico. Despite this setback, owner Crystal Díaz was able to reopen within a year and grow her business. Here, chickens roam freely around the property, banana trees line the hills, and vegetables like taro roots take shape under the ground. El Pretexto serves breakfast and dinner to its guests upon request. It also hosts a series of weekend pop-up dinners featuring notable Puerto Rican chefs, including Jose Carles, Natalia Vallejo and Francis Guzmán.

Dinners, popular with residents and travelers alike, take place on a long communal table with a 360-degree view of the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that crosses the island from west to east. In addition to producing many of his own ingredients, such as duck and chicken eggs, pumpkins, cucumbers and ginger, Díaz also believes in empowering his neighbors through employment opportunities. “Everyone who works at El Pretexto comes from our community,” she says.

Bacoa Roasted Pumpkin

Taste seasonal dishes cooked on grills over a wood fire at Bacoa

A 40-minute drive south of bustling San Juan, bacoa is a country restaurant created by Puerto Rican chefs Raúl Correa, Xavier Pacheco and René Marichal, who wanted a place of their own where they could showcase the flavors that define Puerto Rico. Bringing together Spanish, Taino and African ingredients and methods, the chefs devise menus that incorporate many ingredients grown on site on the farm, such as cabbage, pumpkin, zucchini, green vegetables and herbs. “Besides what we grow ourselves, we also rely on local farms such as Guacabo fruit and Produce“explains Corréa.

When you walk into Bacoa, you can smell the smoky smell of grilled steaks and red snapper from the wood-fired grills. Bacoa has also gained a reputation for its vegetable dishes, and the grilled calabaza (Puerto Rican pumpkin) and beetroot dip with freshly baked bread are guest favourites.

Chief Jordan Dossantos

Feast on indigenous-inspired vegan meals at Finca Victoria

Located in Vieques, a small island east of mainland Puerto Rico, Finca Victoria sits atop a hill overlooking the coastline of La Isla Nena (nickname for Vieques). From solar panels to AC-free rooms, the bed-and-breakfast aims to incorporate sustainable practices into its operations as much as possible. “The whole property is solar powered,” explains Sylvia De Marco, owner of Finca Victoria.

In a place like Puerto Rico, known for its roast pork and fried fish, Finca Victoria has created an all-vegan experience using Ayurvedic principles. Start the day with yoga and a breakfast of mashed taro root and yuca, which resident chef Jordan Dossantos calls a “Taíno bowl,” paying homage to the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. As you walk through the 2.5 acre farm, you are surrounded by banana, papaya, star fruit and mango trees, the fruits of which are used in Finca Victoria’s chutneys, cakes and cookies.

Finca Victoria opens its doors to non-guests with a series of vegan dinners, prepared by resident chefs, including Brittany Lukowski, who has lived in Vieques for more than 10 years. If you can’t make it to Vieques, check out Finca Victoria’s sister property, Casa Botanicawhich hosts pop-up vegan dinners in San Juan.

Book now: Finca Victoria

Outside Casa Vieja

Sip passion fruit mojitos at Casa Vieja

The winding mountain road 149 connects the center of Puerto Rico to the town of Ciales. There, Casa Vieja sits on a mountain ledge with a view of the surrounding green vegetation. “We focus on natural flavors,” says Lilliam Ayala, owner of Casa Vieja. “That’s why we buy our ingredients from nearby farmers and students, like green bananas, plantains, pumpkins and yautía, which we use for our signature dish, Pastel al Caldero.”

Ayala buys from farms located in Ciales or nearby towns such as Finca La AgriculturaFinca Mi Pequeño Paraiso, Finca La Parcha, and Finca Tío Pepo. She says local deals don’t come without their challenges. “With a weak power grid and a government creating unfair practices with local businesses, we are working very hard to survive, but we are still here,” she says.

Orujo offers inventive multi-course tasting menus in San Juan.

Take a Puerto Rican Tasting Menu Tour at Orujo

Gastronomic restaurant Orujo is owned and operated by husband and wife team Carlos and Armalie Portela. What makes Orujo special is the singular culinary approach to Puerto Rican endemic ingredients dreamed up by chef Carlos Portela, who is also a sommelier. “I like to call our style dynamic, experimental and inspiring,” he says. “We fuse different styles – from native Puerto Rican cooking methods to Spanish techniques – to create something unique in our kitchen.”

Portela’s tasting menu can include up to 17 dishes and changes daily – no two dinners are the same. They offer seasonal items such as water chestnut fritters, textured coconut, and pan-fried bonito. “We were able to create many of our dishes with 100% Puerto Rican ingredients,” Portela said. “We have built relationships with farmers to bring the best ingredients and offer local fish, poultry and meats. Beyond what is locally sourced, we also try to employ zero waste practices with our ingredients.

>> Next: Puerto Rico Travel Guide



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