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A recipe for success: famous designers, a mojito and fine Cuban cuisine

Craig Robins and Emilio Estefan, co-owners of the new Estefan Kitchen restaurant in the Miami Design District.
Craig Robins and Emilio Estefan, co-owners of the new Estefan Kitchen restaurant in the Miami Design District. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

They say that great ideas often come up during casual conversation between friends.

But when the friends are renowned musician and producer Emilio Estefan and Miami Design District visionary businessman Craig Robins, and the idea is to blend creations by designers such as BVLGARI, Cartier and Gucci with the sweet pleasure of a Mojito, the aroma of vaca frita and the sound of a drumbeats what can be bad about that?

Estefan and Robins, CEO and president of real estate development company Dacra, have known each other since adolescence and are both successful entrepreneurs in different industries.

In addition to countless musical achievements as a producer of Hispanic American artists, including his wife Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Ricky Martin, Thalía and Cristian Castro, Estefan also is the winner of 19 Grammy Awards and co-founder of the Miami Sound Machine. The recognized and multifaceted Cuban, of Lebanese descent, already has managed to combine music and gastronomy with successful results. He opened his first restaurant, Larios, 27 years ago on Ocean Drive and also owns Bongos in Orlando and Estefan Kitchen Express at Miami International Airport.

Robins, meanwhile, is credited with having “lifted from the ashes” an abandoned and dangerous Miami neighborhood that, after the 1980 riots, was largely forgotten. Through DACRA, and with the help and vision of former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, he managed to turn the old warehouses and dilapidated Buena Vista East District buildings into an attractive international design epicenter known today as the Miami Design District, where art, design, architecture and fashion intersect.

In addition to buying a large number of dilapidated buildings and rehabilitating the area, Robins persuaded several designers, such as Alison Spear, Holly Hunt and Peter Page to move to the promising area, which currently houses brands such as Céline, Christian Louboutin, Cartier, Giorgio Armani, Tiffany & Co, Valentino, Prada, Gucci and more than 70 prestigious luxury stores.

But the Miami Design District, Estefan and Robins said, was missing a key ingredient: the Cuban flavor.

“I always thought that if we wanted to give the Design District an international projection, it was vital that we include our Cuban side, and I thought there was no better way to do it than through music and food, but in an authentic and contemporary way,” said Robins, an American Jew from Miami Beach and father of two Cuban American youths, who also is credited with much of the rehabilitation in South Beach.

I always thought that if we wanted to give the Design District an international projection, it was vital that we include our Cuban side...

Craig Robins, co-owner

Robins' vision coincided with that of Estefan who for years had found in Miami Design District the same potential to promote Cuban heritage through flavors, combined with the best of Latin music and artistic talent in Miami.

“How can there not be a Cuban restaurant here?,” Estefan thought as he had lunch at Michael's Genuine, a renowned restaurant in the Design District, where the idea began to bubble up.

“Today there is a new generation that is proud of its roots and wants to show it to the world in an elegant way, and I believe that the best way to promote our culture and the contribution that Latinos make in this country cannot be other than through music and food,” said the Cuban producer.

Today there is a new generation that is proud of its roots and wants to show it to the world in an elegant way...

Emilio Estefan, co-owner

This is how Estefan Kitchen was born, the first restaurant of Latin concept to open amidst exclusive international brands that occupy the streets of this ritzy Miami neighborhood.

Estefan and Robins dared to combine design, art, fashion and architecture with the flavors of traditional Cuban food, under what they call a guaranteed success strategy: generating experiences through the senses.

“What we want is to offer people a mix of gastronomic experiences, accompanied by Latin sounds and a visual experience that fits perfectly with the elegance and dynamism that is lived in this area,” said Robins, who took on the mission of creating and designing the right atmosphere for this culinary destination.

The restaurant, which opened last month, pays tribute to the 1950s era in Cuba, with monochrome decoration in black and white, columns inspired by art deco and an outdoor bar covered by oyster shells. Its cuisine is managed by award-winning Chef Odell Torres, who also has the task of fusing the island's traditional flavors with the glamor, vibrancy and style of the Miami Design District.

For the two entrepreneurs, the key to Estefan Kitchen's success will be to provide visitors to the Design District with a “360 degree” experience: high-quality gastronomy complemented by musical entertainment, live shows with the Estefan stamp, and a talented group of waiters and bartenders who will surprise diners with performances and invite them to join the party singing and dancing.

“The idea is to play with the flavors, typical Creole food, a fusion dish or healthy food,” Estefan said, “that people can enjoy a variety of Cuban family recipes, but on a higher level, from pan con lechón, vaca frita or pork ribs to some Miami-style recipes like seafood and variety of ceviches.”

His personal definition the new restaurant: “The ideal place to disconnect from problems and get carried away by the Latino party and the good service.”

Follow Silvia Parra on Twitter: @silvia_parra

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