Blanca Rosa Ortiz sips freshly brewed Cuban coffee at the only Kentucky Fried Chicken in the world that bakes its own flan.
For the last 32 years, she has been the “flanadera,” the latest person in a long line of cooks entrusted with a different kind of secret recipe, handed down by word of mouth for more than 40 years — one that would make the Colonel proud.
Of course, the KFC is in Hialeah.
“I’ve always felt like it was Hialeah’s best-kept secret,” said Dan Yagoda, a second-generation owner of this restaurant. “Nobody thinks they’re going to get a great piece of flan in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.”
Quietly for nearly 45 years, the KFC at 811 W. 49th St. has sold this house-made flan, innovated by a Cuban immigrant chef when Hialeah was in transition.
Diners have discovered it over the decades and drive to west Hialeah for their fix of a smooth, creamy flan that would make any home baker jealous.
“People come from Tampa, from Homestead, from all over Miami because they’re fascinated with this flan,” said Ortiz, an immigrant from Managua, Nicaragua, who learned to cook the flan here. “They say they’ve never had another one like it.”
In 1970, when Dan Yagoda’s father became the managing partner of the restaurant, the kitchen of this KFC was staffed with Cuban immigrants. Yagoda, who grew up in Kendall, graduated from the University of Florida and returned to work at his father’s franchise for what he thought would be a summer job.
Before the restaurant opened every day, the chefs would cook a meal for Yagoda and the rest of the staff, and not just food off the menu. In those days, KFC franchisees were encouraged to innovate, and this KFC’s menu included dishes such as fried shrimp, Yagoda’s grandmother’s rice pudding and a home-made Key lime pie.
Yagoda remembers the elderly head chef, the late Baldomero Gonzalez, a former sous chef in Cuba before he escaped the revolution, making chicken fricassee, arroz con pollo and fried chicken livers in gravy out of the supplies the restaurant already stocked.
One day, Gonzalez attempted a flan bain marie inside a 16-quart pressure cooker that the restaurants used to pressure-fry chicken. He took sugar used for the coleslaw, condensed milk for the Key lime pie and eggs used for the chicken fry batter.
Gonzalez’s flantastic creation was born.
“As soon as I ate it, I realized it was something special,” Yagoda said. “I told my dad, ‘We could really sell this stuff.’ It was really, really good.”
The even heat of the pressure cooker ensures the flan cooks uniformly, not too hot, not too long, not too quickly. If any of those factors are off, the mixture boils and a flan becomes a holey, squishy kitchen sponge of a confection.
Baldomero’s flan was always perfect.
Flipping the flan over onto a plate like an upside-down cake, maple-colored caramel drips over the top, coating the three-inch-thick custard in a rich, amber sauce. A spoon slips through the silken flan, and each bite is suffused with a background hint of molasses.
The flan went on the menu in 1975. Ninety-nine cents got you a nine-ounce wedge, more than half a pound of decadence. (Today it costs a reasonable $2.89.) It was a way for Yagoda to embrace the changing community around him.
“We never priced it to make a lot of money. It just gave the customers another reason to come to us,” Yagoda said.
The late Baldomero passed down the recipe like oral tradition. He taught the other cooks to make it by feel, adding just the right amount of ingredients by sight.
Blanca Ortiz never met Baldomero Gonzalez. She learned to make his flan from one of Baldomero’s successors and continued the legacy for 32 years until she switched to part time.
“It came out perfect the very first time. I had my maestro watching over me,” she said.
Now she has taught the current head cook, Frank Turcios, a fellow Nicaraguan, who has worked at this KFC for 26 years.
Yagoda only wrote down the recipe when Yum Brands bought KFC and gave him a special exception to keep making it the traditional way.
To approve the recipe, KFC insisted he calculate the calories. (Skip this next sentence if you’d rather live in caloric-free bliss.) The approximate nine-ounce wedge will set you back 650 calories.
Calories never stopped Hialeah. This KFC makes about 45 flans a week, many more during the holidays, when diners pre-order their desserts and bring in their own containers to take them home whole.
“Some people just come for the flan,” Turcios said. “They give it as a gift.”
Like the Colonel’s chicken recipe of 11 herbs and spices, Baldomero’s flan recipe is a closely guarded secret.
“And it has one ingredient that no other flan does,” said the general manager William Blasini. He stopped and smiled. “But that’s part of the secret recipe.”
“The secret ingredient is,” Ortiz said, allowing a smile, “that we make all of them with love.”