On our recent trip to Cuba my wife and I thought we’d try a restaurant called Atelier. It had excellent write-ups and sounded interesting.
When we got there we were greeted and shown up some stairs to the restaurant and to a table. It was, indeed, an interesting place. It was simple and stylish. For decoration there were sophisticated but simple paintings, vintage tills and vintage radios – sounds strange, but it worked. I decided to take some photographs.
I went out on to the expansive roof terrace. At the far end of the roof terrace someone in chef’s whites posed for a photo. I went over. It turned out he was the chef. He was eating a chickpea dish he had made. He offered me some. They were exquisite – I told him so. I also told him it was my birthday. He took me into the kitchen and introduced me to his staff. I spent so long chatting to them that a waiter had to come and find me to tell me our meal was ready. I asked the chef (Liuyen Alvarez Gallego) to come and say “Hello” to my wife.
After we ate our meal (this, too, was exquisite), Liuyen came to sit with us. He showed me a book he had published. By this time a waiter had joined us. The waiter informed me that Liuyen was one of the top chefs in Cuba. The book was a work of art and the recipes looked delicious. I asked if I could buy the copy of the book. Liuyen said he had none at the restaurant and the one I was holding was inscribed and it was the restaurant owner’s copy, but they were for sale at a restaurant about 5 minutes’ away. I asked if it would be possible for someone to pick up a copy from that restaurant, but I was informed that it was a busy time and no one was available. In the end Liuyen borrowed the waiter’s motorbike and went off to get me a copy. (Can you imagine Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver doing that…)
Whilst he was gone I was brought a dessert with a lit candle in it which he had made for my birthday.
He autographed and inscribed the book with the words: “To my friend Rakesh with much love from Cuba. I hope you enjoy the book”.
I had told him I was a massage therapist with a massage therapy practice in York, and told him where he had a knot in his shoulders which would benefit from massage. I ended up massaging his shoulders – it was the first massage he had ever had and found it beneficial. I was told by the waiter that the pastry chef was always asking for a massage, and would I mind massaging her? Of course, I agreed. I ended up massaging her shoulders too. She found the massage helpful as well.
As with so many Cuban people, I found him to be friendly, kind and gracious. It was a pleasure and an unforgettable experience meeting him and everyone who worked at the restaurant.