Chef Kevin Roth plucked a ripe prickly pear from a tree in the garden that surrounds his restaurant. “I’m going to be picking these out the whole day,” he said smiling, referring to the invisible needles that will cover his fingertips if he’s not careful.
Roth is the owner of La Estación, a five-year-old barbecue restaurant converted from a former gas station, which he runs with his wife Idalia García in Fajardo, on the east coast of Puerto Rico. Here the couple celebrates their dual identity and the love they share for repurposing, creating inventive Nuyorican dishes with local, sustainable produce that gives new life to traditional Puerto Rican ingredients and techniques.
“I never worked in a barbecue restaurant with barbecue equipment. So it’s not really any particular style. It’s not like a Texas style that’s dry or the North Carolina style where they put the vinegary sauce on the side. It’s just kind of our own thing,” said Roth.
Roth marinates all the meats overnight and then seasons them with a house dry rub made of freshly toasted and ground spices of chili peppers, coriander, cumin, ginger, and other secret ingredients. He brushes them with a guava barbecue sauce, basting them before firing up the meats in the custom-built smoker and grills he designed. During the busy season and the holidays, he prepares Puerto Rican lechon by roasting his squash-and-watermelon-fed pigs to a golden crisp in the back of an old burnt-down Jeep he flat bedded and transformed into a rotisserie.
“We put charcoal in the corner and as we need it, we move the charcoal to the different areas of the pig so that it cooks evenly. It does have its own motor and it spins, which makes it easier. But it cooks it really well,” he said, explaining the process.
Roth looks like the quintessential Brooklyn chef. He wears a trimmed beard, a piercing on his earlobe, and a miniature pig that hangs from a thick silver chain around his neck. His Brooklyn grit is as permanent as the black ink that stretches out around his elbows.
Next up, how a Brooklyn couple made it to the Caribbean...