Meet Carlos Portela, Puerto Rico’s Acclaimed, Visionary Chef of Orujo Restaurant

Carlos Portela of Orufo

Carlos Portela is the executive chef of Orujo, a world-class restaurant in Miramar, Puerto Rico. Portela is known for his inventive, soulful reimagining of traditional Boricua ingredients, and for inviting diners into the kitchen to meet the crew creating his mind-blowing fare with love and precision.

On June 10, the Saturday night before the big National Puerto Rico Parade big parade in New York City, the celebrated and daringly experimental chef, profiled recently in Food + Wine, will be helming the kitchen at Chef’s Dinner Table, a beautiful, intimate dining and events space in New York City for comida connoisseurs

Chef’s Dinner Table is owned and managed by Hernan “Ronnie“ Rodriguez, who happens to be a Puerto Rican on a mission to showcase his homeland’s finest food and drink. That’s why he has partnered with Don Q rum and Discover Puerto Rico to curate and host “GUSTO!,” a yearlong dinner series celebrating the island’s top chefs. (Interested in attending? Make your future reservation here.)

We talked to Portela about what will be on his island-inspired menu at Chef’s Dinner Table the weekend of the National Day Parade in NYC, the first family recipe he ever made when he was growing up on the island, and what it means to be a Puerto Rican chef.

Q: What is inspiring the dishes you’ll be serving at Chef’s Dinner Table the night before the Puerto Rican Day Parade? 
A: Los Puertorriqueños somos orgullosos. We Puerto Ricans are proud. As we get ready to travel and represent our take and philosophy on the ever-changing landscape of gastronomy, our heart and mindset are primarily focused on the people. How will they react to our unconventional approach to classical flavors and cooking methods of today’s Puerto Rican-inspired cuisine? In the last couple of years, we have developed a dynamic, experimental and inspirational concept that translates home-style flavors and techniques into a modern presentation and enjoyment of the flavors and deliciousness of Caribbean food.”

Q: What island ingredient might people be surprised to find on your menu at the Chef’s Dinner Table special dinner?
One of the most loved ingredients by Puerto Ricans is the pana (breadfruit), a delicious and versatile ingredient brought in during the colonization era and even used as trading currency. Pana is one of the most sought-out delicacies on the island, used in everything from tostones to flan, and is considered a superfood. It’s right up there with guanábana (soursop). When it’s in season, it becomes a must-have, enjoyed from the most simple to the more elegant tables.

Q: What would you like the world to understand in a new or different way about Puerto Rican food?
A: Puerto Rico is one of the oldest colonies in the world, and still our cuisine hasn’t been included as one of the most complete, hearty and delicious in the world. The Taino influences are very strong, there are noted African impressions, as well as European cooking methods and preservations. Puerto Rican cuisine has all that it takes to be recognized as one of the best cuisines in the world, and many of us are working hard to place our cooking culture on the map.

Q: We’re all about homecooking here at Familia Kitchen. Do you remember that first Puerto Rican dish you learned to make when you were growing up?
A: Un guineito rebosado, a lightly battered and pan-fried baby green banana, served with simple white rice, is one of the first things I learned as a kid. It makes a great substitution for avocados when they are not in season.

Q: At your restaurant Orujo, you’re known for inviting diners into your kitchen and creating connection and community between those who eat and those who cook.  Why is it so important to you to break down the silos between back and front of the house?
A: We love to have people immersed in our experience. We not only want them to be satisfied by the food, but also to enjoy the way of preparation and fabrication of the items they consume, giving them the opportunity to get more close and personal with methods, ingredients and see first-hand the composition of their dishes while talking to us and having all their questions answered. It’s a new way of integrating the chefs and cooks into the service, and gives the foodie a more up-close and personal service experience.

Enter to Win a Puerto Rico Food & Rum Trip for 2!

We’re honored and excited to invite you to enter our sweepstakes Puerto Rico Food & Rum Experience Prize Trip for two people! How would you like to win a delicioso experience for two to attend a Chef’s Dinner Table “GUSTO!” dinner series event in New York City in early October 2023, starring one of Puerto Rico’s best chefs? The prize trip includes dinner for two, a special Don Q rum tasting, and one night’s stay at a luxury hotel. Enter for your chance to win today. Enter to win here!

Puerto Rico sweepstakes prize trip
Enter to win a trip to a Puerto Rican food and rum experience in New York City for two people!

Like This

More Delicioso Family Recipes & Articles We Think You’ll Like!

You May Also Like

Got a question or suggestion?

Please rate this recipe and leave any tips, substitutions, or Qs you have!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *