It’s all about delivering a great meal for Philly native Chef Jason Kaufman at Cuba Libre in downtown DC. The beautiful restaurant is becoming known for its fantastic mojitos , lavish décor, Latin music and of course, the Cuban-inspired dishes from Chef Jason’s kitchen.
OT: What experience do you want diners to have here?
Chef Jason: I want them to enjoy the food and the drinks. But one thing, especially in this city in particular, that no other restaurant has in this area is the experience of dining. It’s about excitement, fun, loud energy. I want them to have more than a necessity to eat. I want them to have fun and not feel rushed. We were looking for a spot in DC where they wanted us and where you’re wanted, it’s great.
OT: What’s your most popular brunch item?
Chef Jason: We have the all-you-can-eat brunch now but the most popular item is the huevos enchilados. It’s a little consuleo and it has enchilado sauce and some fritto and you bring it to a boil and crack an egg in there and then bring it to a light simmer and serve it with some corn relish and a white corn cake with a little bit of cheese. People enjoy it. For drinks, the most popular one is the champagne Mojito.
OT: Using three ingredients to make a dish, what would you use?
Chef Jason: Olive oil, lemon juice and garlic or onion.
OT: What’s your signature dish?
Chef Jason: Stuff that I enjoy is anything on the grill, especially bread. There’s a dish called coco de lomo – a Spanish bread that you roll out and finish it on the grill. It’s just good.
OT: What’s your motivation as a chef?
Chef Jason: I think you always want to be recognized for serving a good product and making your mark. It never was the money. I got into it in the early 90s when it wasn’t cool but then the Food Network and Emeril happened and it became cool. I can start something and finish it in the same day. I don’t have to work on a project for two months and then turn it in. I can work on something and finish it and have it taste great and smell great. I love when people enjoy that.
OT: Did you always want to be a chef?
Chef Jason: No, I wanted to be a lawyer. Somewhere along the way I decided I didn’t want to go to school for eight years and do something else. A good motivator is to find something you’re really good at, that you try hard at, and it keeps you going.
OT: What are some of your favorite restaurants in DC?
Chef Jason: I like Zaytinya, me and [executive chef] Mike Isabella became friendly. He came in here a few times and Facebooked it as the best Latin restaurant in the city. I like Jaleo too. A lot of different people come in here to see what we’re about.
OT: How do you unwind?
Chef Jason: My drive to and from work is big for me. When I leave work, if something is bothering me, I have 40 minutes to make my phone calls and then I leave it when I get home and vice versa. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take your job seriously. You need to understand when to go hard and when to fall back. If you live your life with passion, it’s all good.
Visit Cuba Libre at 801 9th St. NW, DC; 202-408-1600; www.cubalibrerestaurant.com.