AFTER YEARS AS A JOURNEYMAN CHEF, THE KITCHEN CHIEF AT CUBACAN PLACES ROOTS IN ASBURY PARK
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
Around 6 p.m. every night, when the dinner rush starts to peak at Cuba can Restaurant and Bar, Chef Pablo Ruiz finds himself still feeling a wave of excitement. “It never fails…I’m overtaken by this sensation, something inside of me just says ‘Here I am, I’m ready for this.’” Ruiz said. “I’m just passionate about what I do. I love every minute of it.” The chef, who began cooking professionally at the age of 25, started out in the industry as a dishwasher before realizing his love for the culinary arts.
“As a dishwasher, I would see all of my friends cooking, so I naturally wanted to try it,” he noted. “As soon as I started, something clicked. So I kept going. I watched and learned from every chef who would take the time to teach me. I challenged myself to learn every type of cuisine: Chinese, Italian…Spanish. I picked up ideas from every kitchen I worked in and began building my own concepts and recipes.”
Ruiz started mainstream working first at the Cheesecake Factory before moving on to another chain, Bahama Breeze. He also worked at P.F. Chang’s before taking a position at Redstone American Grill in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.
“I worked for [the last] company for five years; it was a big corporation that gave me great opportunities,” Ruiz said. “I traveled all over the country opening new restaurants; it was a beautiful experience being able to learn about so many places while still doing what I love.”
Each of his employers, as it turned out, also allowed him to discover new cuisines.
“I made it all, from Italian to Caribbean, learning so many different techniques along the way.”
Three years ago, while visiting his daughter in New Jersey, he saw a sign in the window of Cubacan in Asbury Park and went in to apply for the job.
“This was the perfect t for me,” he said. “It let me be closer to my daughter and allowed me to broaden my skills even further.”
Here, Chef Ruiz works exclusively with Cuban and Caribbean flavors, in dishes like the Jibarito, a combination of skirt steak, lettuce, tomato, and garlic aioli sandwiched between two attended plantains. There’s also a Cuban Lasagna, piled high with meat, cheese, and slices of plantain instead of noodles.
“It feels like home here,” Ruiz said, referencing both staff and regular clients. “Everyone seems like family, and we all work together to make some really delicious food.”
Some of the chef’s specialties include Ropa Vieja, a braised beef brisket topped with onions, Manzanilla olives, peas, rice, and beans, and Lechon Asado, a traditional Cuban roast pork served with peppers and onions.
“I roast the pork shoulder for nine hours and cook the Ropa Vieja for 11 hours,” he detailed.
“It’s the slow cooking process that makes the meat taste so good. Even on my days off, I’m cooking, creating new things, experimenting with new dishes. I can’t wait to get into that kitchen every day.”
Cubacan Restaurant and Bar
800 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park
732.774.3007 / cubacanrestaurant.com