Local chefs Miguel Rivas and Jeremy Ashby, who have both explored the tastes and ingredients of “new Southern” cuisine while cooking together at Azur Restaurant & Patio, are taking their repertoire just further south of the border with their latest venture.
South of the border, but not Mexico way. Brasabana Cuban Cuisine, which opened last week on Lane Allen Road, specializes in Caribbean food, which has substantial differences from Mexican food.
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“Don’t come here and expect to get a basket of chips and salsa,” Ashby said. While corn is a staple in Mexican cuisine, it isn’t as prominent as an ingredient in the Caribbean islands, he explained. So maybe not corn, but do expect to see plantains, yucca, carnitas, ropa vieja, mojitos, and, of course, the quintessential Cuban sandwich on the menu.
Brasabana – the name being a mixture of “brasa,” a small, controlled fire used for slow cooking in the region, and Habana, the Latin spelling for the Cuba capital, Havana – is the sister restaurant to Azur Restaurant & Patio (along with Rivas and Ashby, the other co-owners are Bernie Lovely and Rob Mudd). As with Azur, which puts a heavy emphasis on exemplifying the farm-to-table food philosophy, Ashby and Rivas want to bring as many locally produced items to Brasabana’s menu.
“The style of food is not really fancy. We’re not looking for farmers to grow us heirloom-variety vegetables,” Ashby said. “We use the bulk ingredients that they can really grow. We use a lot of peppers, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, fresh herbs.
“When it comes to meats, this is not a filet mignon and ribeye or rack of lamb place. We’re using chicken thighs, we’re using chuck roast, and braising things low and slow for hours. These lower cuts of meat, which farmers have a hard time selling, we’re going to be a good outlet for that.”
There also is a pinch of serendipity in Rivas and Ashby opening a Caribbean-focused restaurant as well. After receiving his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C., Ashby pursued a curiosity and enthusiasm for “nuevo latino” cuisine by studying in Miami before returning to Lexington. Rivas, who will serve as the restaurant’s executive chef, emigrated from the Dominican Republic as a teenager and received a culinary arts degree from New York Restaurant School and went on to learn about the food he ate as a child while working at a Cuban restaurant in New York City and studying under Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
“I moved from New York to Lexington, Kentucky, and I never expected to have this kind of love for Latino cooking,” Rivas said. “And then I find Jeremy (Ashby), a guy who grew up here and has the same kind of passion for these kind of ingredients – it’s really a great thing.”
For Rivas, opening a restaurant that emphasizes the foods he remembers growing up the occasion is steeped in sentimentality.
“It’s most exciting because, and I get a little emotional about it, I see plantains and I can picture my mother cooking breakfast for me in the morning,” he said. “And it really brings back memories. The fact that I’m doing that right now for other people is really great.”
Brasabana Cuban Cuisine
841 Lane Allen Rd.
11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sun. - Thurs.
11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Fri. - Sat.