Ivan Justo

Ivan Justo, a paladar located in Old Havana, is a partnership between a chef (Ivan) and a front-of-house specialist (Justo).  Ivan and his paladar are featured in #CubaCooks, but since the story of how he became a chef did not make it in the book I have included it here along with some photos of his kitchen (he is not featured in the photos or video). 

Ivan Rodriguez, the chef and partner of two Havana paladares Ivan Justo and Al Carbón, became a chef in 1994.  The irony of graduating from culinary school during the peak of the Cuban special period, which was marked by food shortages, is not lost on him, and yet he became a chef by chance.  For the most part, careers in Cuba are selected by the government, and the government had chosen civil engineering for Ivan, something he was not happy about.  But Ivan was about to receive a very unexpected surprise.  Given the economic desperation of the 1990s, the government needed to prop up its economy and a growth in tourism was their short-term solution.  As a result, they increased the number of students accepted for careers in the hospitality industry and, fortunately for Ivan, he was given a secondary option of going to culinary school.  Much to the chagrin of his parents, he jumped at the chance.

So was it love at first sight for Ivan in the kitchen?  In his words….

¡Me encanto!  Aunque nosotros teníamos que caminar unas cuadras vestido de cocinero, de blanco, pantalón blanco, camisa blanca, y el gorro blanco… y entonces ibas caminando para la escuela y pasaban los camiones con la gente y empesaron a gritar “sancochero!” …una burla.  Eso fue ese año.  Al otro año todo el mundo quería estudiar cocina… porque era una carera rápida y la única forma de ganar algún dinero…y como era el turismo en cuba…era el boom…dejamos de ser sancochero a ser mas respetado.

I loved it!  Although we had to walk several blocks to school dressed in chef whites - white pants, white jacket, white hat…and as we walked to school trucks packed with people would drive by and yell “sanchochero!” (soup maker)…they were making fun of us.  That was that year.  The next year everyone wanted to go to culinary school…because it was a fast career path and the only way to make some money…and given the tourism in Cuba…it was the boom…we stopped being sanchocheros and became more respected.