Sachi Statz and Andres Vega were destined to turn Cuban cuisine on its head.
“In second grade, at my first communion, they asked all the kids on stage what they wanted to be — my mom loves this story,” Vega said with a laugh. “Everyone was like ‘Scientist. Lawyer. Doctor.’ Then they asked me, and I was like, ‘I want to be a baker.’”
What else was he going to say? Vega spent his impressionable years in Miami’s La Rosa Bakery, owned by his grandparents since 1968. Similarly, Statz was just 12 years old when her mother and uncle opened Tinta y Café, and she spent her high school summers making cafecitos and bussing tables.
Although neither saw themselves working in the restaurant world permanently, winding paths led them to meet at the Miami Culinary Institute. After graduating, the pair traveled to Spain to take internships — Statz at the top-rated El Celler de Can Roca and Vega at Barcelona’s Tickets — before returning home to Miami to launch Sansara, their pop-up restaurant that’s housed within Tinta y Café in Coral Gables.
Respecting Abuelas at Sansara
At Sansara, Statz and Vega are making food that is reverential to their Cuban roots, even if it may not always resemble the classics. They say they’re satisfying their desire to promote a region, a people and a cuisine that’s often taken for granted in the culinary world.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the greatest hits; they’re delicious,” Statz said, rattling off mainstays like vaca frita, congri and tostones. “But there are so many other things that you could do that I don’t think people realize.”
So, yes, you’ll find black beans on the menu, but they’re repackaged as a soufflé with chocolate and paired with arroz con leche ice cream. Maduros are there, too, only transformed into elegant gnocchi that’s finished with mint chimichurri.
“When someone says, ‘This tastes like my grandma’s, but it looks different,’ that’s exactly what we want,” Statz said. “It’s better than saying it’s like Alain Ducasse. I hold grandmas in very high respect.”
Cool and Refreshing, Familiar and Unique
The Sansara philosophy is encapsulated in its papaya carpaccio dish. Ingredients like papaya, mint and lime are familiar, particularly to Cuban palates. The presentation of thin-shaved papaya ribbons topped with icy granita and peppery arugula? Not so much.
To re-create it, Statz and Vega advise using a firm, slightly ripened papaya. Cool it in a refrigerator for about an hour to make slicing easier. Look for local arugula when available. Lastly, be sure to start the granita the day before you plan to serve the carpaccio.
With those tips, follow Sansara’s recipe to simultaneously savor the past and taste the future.
Sansara (Saturdays and Sundays only), 1315 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables; 305-432-4661; sansaramiami.com.
Recipe: Papaya Carpaccio with Lime Granita
Makes 4-6 servings
1/2 cup Green Chartreuse
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar (preferably Thai vinegar)
2 tablespoons honey (preferably orange blossom)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2-3 slightly ripe papayas
8 cups arugula leaves
- Start the granita: Chill a clean baking sheet in the freezer. In a sauce pan, combine Green Chartreuse and sugar with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally, then simmer for 1-2 minutes. (Use caution as the chartreuse may ignite; the flames will quickly die out.) Remove from heat, whisk again and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Once liquid has cooled, add lime juice and whisk until incorporated, then strain. Pour the liquid onto the chilled baking sheet and return to the freezer. After an hour, run a fork across the top of the granita and return to the freezer. Repeat every 30-45 minutes for three hours. Freeze another eight hours or overnight, then scrape up granita with a fork and freeze in an airtight container until ready to use.
- Make the papaya dressing: Combine vinegar, honey, cayenne pepper and 1 1/3 cups water into a small bowl and whisk until incorporated. Cover and chill until ready to use.
- Peel papayas, then use a mandoline or knife to thinly slice papaya lengthwise, about 1/8-inch thick. When you begin to see seeds, remove them with a spoon, turn and begin slicing another side.
- Fold about 12-15 papaya slices onto a chilled plate, then pour 1-2 tablespoons of dressing over them. Top with a spoonful of granita and a handful of arugula. Finish with salt and pepper to taste, and a drizzle of olive oil.