The Oasis Edition
Carlos Flores packed up his bags (maybe stuffed them with tortillas, and a bottle of Mezcal” amores” and “pierde almas”) and closed his boutique restaurant, Cientosiete, located in the Polanco region of Mexico City, in the pursuit of an opportunity to grow in Miami. A difficult decision yet one that would favor him… Chef Flores’ first job was at the age of 17 in Mexico, scrubbing oysters in a small beach town where he eventually fell in love with fish and seafood. It was during his high school years that he realized he wanted to be a chef. Cooking on the weekends turned into the notion that he could do this for the rest of his life. With this goal in mind, he attended the Culinary Institute of America where he graduated as a chef and later worked in Chef Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardain.
What brought us here today to the Oasis Café, a petit Cuban islander joint, was the Saturday Special, carnita tacos ($2.25 per taco), with chopped onions, cilantro, tangy lime juice, salsa verde and salsa roja to your liking.
But what you really need to know is there’s a lot more where that came from.
Chef Flores took on this true landmark a year ago when he bought it from the original owners. Established 42 years ago, this is a café with history and has stood the test of time as well as that of mother nature: it’s been through many hurricanes and storms.
When asked what has changed since he came to town, Chef Flores laughed and said, “Well, we clean now, it was a bit messy.”
They have a younger crowd working the shop now, and the ambiance is easy-going and cozy. Chef Flores has maintained the authenticity of the café while adding a new concept. Aware of the fact that Brazilians, Colombians, and Argentineans have taken over the island, he has brought other Latin flavors besides just Cuban.
In describing the basis of the café’s concept, Chef Flores says he is all about supporting local businesses and showcasing Latin food in general. He breaks his café down into three sections. The first being the marketplace, providing fresh produce and artisanal products, like local honey and coconuts from Key Biscayne. Followed by the Latin rotisserie and prepared food section offering the Café’s money maker: the lechon or roasted pork shoulder. They also offer a variety of empanadas, croquetas, arepas, and quickly made to order sandwiches like the Cuban Sandwich, Media Noche, Pan con Lechon, Pan con Bistec, and the Croqueta Preparada. Last but not least is the coffee shop and juice bar, offering your typical café con leche and cortaditos. The café also offers Aguas Frescas, with flavors like Flor deJamaica (our personal favorite),mango, papaya, pineapple, tamarindo, fruit punch, watermelon, melon, guanabana, lime, and limonada rosa with grapefruit.
Moving on from the menu and daily specials we wanted to know more about Chef Flores and the future of Oasis. Changes are being made and Chef Flores will be remodeling the cafe, as well as opening a second location next year.
Interested in his style and taste, we asked him to share with us his favorite restaurant in Miami,“Matsuri, it’s honest. It’s not overpriced, you get really good price per value,”Stressing how hard it is to find honest and well-executed food in Miami.
We also asked him to speak to us about Miami’s culinary scene today. With a positive perspective of what it has come to in the last 5 years, he says “People are more open and are willing to try new things. I like where it’s going.”
And it all flowed from there:
The Hungry Post: “What do I need to know about you as a person, to know you as a chef?”
Carlos Flores: “I’m honest and I’m very in your face. And that’s the way I cook. It’s more about very well defined flavors, there are no subtleties. I used to cook very complicated flavors with a lot of ingredients. And gradually as I matured more in my craft I decided to use less, with a strong execution, and very precise cooking techniques. I think that it really shows that less is more. And you have to let the ingredients do their magic and execute them to the best of your knowledge, which is really hard. Anyone can use 30 ingredients in a sauce but really the hardest things are the simplest recipes.”
THP: “Are you living your dream?”
CF: “Yes, as part of my dream I would love to have 10, 15, 20, or 30 Oasis Cafes throughout Miami and eventually buy a farm up north and become our own supplier. I would love to have my own hotel in Mexico near the beach with its own farm as well. That will make the whole dream complete. It’s a lot of work but I would be very fulfilled if I could achieve that. And be able to say that everything you are seeing at the store is sourced directly from our farms.”
THP: “What is your favorite city to eat in?”
CF: “Anywhere. I believe that you can honestly go to any city in the world and find something that you cannot find anywhere else and I think that it’s phenomenal. I don’t have a favorite city.”
THP: “You are on your death bed and you are really hungry, what would you want your last meal to be?”
CF: (Chuckles)” I would like an array of nigiri, sushi nigiri, and aguachile from Baja. I don’t know… it’s very hard. It’s like telling a painter what your favorite color is. It changes.”
THP: “Would you have done anything differently?”
CF: “No. I’m happy with the good and the bad.”
THP: “What advice would you give someone that is just starting out?”
CF: “Be prepared to work your ass off. It’s a very demanding career. People don’t realize it until you know you are neck-deep in work. You are going to be working when everyone else is celebrating, and you will be going home at 2 AM and probably waking up at 5 AM, especially when you own your own place. Be prepared to pull 130 hours a week of work. A lot of people, I don’t think, realize that. They think it’s all glitz and glam and that it is all very Food Network oriented, when in reality , it’s a lot of work. But if you like it, it’s very gratifying.”
And that is it for now, we will be back to try the Sunday Special: Paella.
Oh kids, one last thing: if you want real authentic Mexican food in Miami, Chef Flores says the only place to go is his house
We say “challenge accepted” in the words of Barney Stinson. Coming soon, The Hungry Post will find the real Mexican in Miami.
Visit Oasis Café at 19 Harbor Drive
Key Biscayne, FL 33149