Gabbana Chef Ricardo Cardona: Alphabet City in the '80s, Caribbean Kibbe, Racism at the Ritz, and What Dominicans Really Eat
Ricardo Cardona heads up the kitchen of the newly opened Gabbana, a modern Dominican restaurant in Corona, Queens. The chef is a veteran of New York kitchens, having worked his way up from frying falafel in the East Village to the Ritz-Carlton, and finally developing his own modern Caribbean/Latin American cuisine. Cardona is currently the executive chef of six restaurants, including Sofrito, 809, Mamajuana, Hudson River Café, and Manolito's.
Chef Ricardo Cardona
We caught up with him to talk about how he came up through the kitchen, his culinary research in the Dominican Republic, and Gabbana restaurant -- and in the process found out that he's about to open his first place where he will be the chef/owner.
Check back here tomorrow to read Cardona on the subject of fusion, and why he'd rather be a restaurant chef than a TV chef.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Alphabet City. I came when I was young, about 14, from El Salvador. We lived on Seventh Street between B and C. Back 1980, 1981, it was not nice like it is now.
What's the dish you remember most from your childhood?
My favorite of all is very Salvadorian: pupusas. Everybody grows up eating that, it's very typical. And then short ribs soup, sopa de res, it's also very typical in Salvadorian culture. That's my childhood memory. My mother made it.
And then coming up at 15, still not finished growing up, I entered the Village and it was Mediterranean people, all different cultures -- Puerto Rican, Israeli ... I ended up working in a restaurant where they taught me falafel. I started working there when I was 15. That was Café Orlin.
How did you work your way up from there?
Well, I worked there in the Village for four to five years, and then when I was 18 my life changed. I got married and had a son. I started working at the Ritz-Carlton. I had a new career perspective. I was the only one without any formal education. I was the only one who did not go through the CIA. ... I was lucky because I was there, and I could learn everything that you would learn at a school. At that time it was managed by Dutch and French people. And it was a very, very different experience than the Lower East Side.
That must have been difficult.
Very, very, very. There was still the language barrier, the procedures, cooking skills, temperatures, and technique, and you know it's not easy at all. I had CIA textbooks from the other cooks, so I had to study the books on the subway to make sure that I would know what I was doing.