Kevin Roth

Location: Fajardo, Puerto Rico
Restaurant: La Estacion
Position: Executive Chef / Owner
Cuisine focus: Farm to Table Contemporary Puerto Rican BBQ (Nuyorican BBQ), seasonally inspired and driven by local products
Notable awards: Cited as one of Top 10 Restaurants in the Caribbean by Fodors,  1st place whole hog category in 2013 CBBQA-KCBS

Kevin Roth opened La Estacion in Fajardo, Puerto Rico in 2006, after years of working in the restaurant industry of NYC. Chef Roth’s cuisine and his radical move to Puerto Rico has received attention from not only Nation’s Restaurant News but also The Wall Street Journal as well as major newspapers in Puerto Rico. La Estacion’s continued success is fueled by glowing recommendations from major guidebooks that feature the restaurant as a highlight, a top ten and “a must stop at” in Puerto Rico. Fodor’s recently cited La Estacion as one of the top ten restaurants in the Caribbean.  When Kevin Roth was the Executive Chef at Coup in NYC, he was invited to cook at the James Beard House and won the professional category Potato Latke cook-off (his mom still brags about it). At La Estacion, Kevin combines his love for Puerto Rico and passion for Barbecue, creating a new style of cuisine, he’s termed Nuyorican BBQ.  He introduces his point of view and creates interpretations of typical dishes he has come to love through joining Idalia’s family and adopting Puerto Rico as his own. At La Estacion, Kevin Roth showcases quality local ingredients, and adapts classic culinary techniques to Puerto Rican comfort food. Kevin pays homage to the islands history, barbecue using open fires of wood smoke and charcoal (el fogon) and ingredients indigenous to Puerto Rico yet in danger of becoming forgotten.

1. What’s your regular comfort meal?

My regular comfort food is New York Style Italian red sauce. I could have Chicken Parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs and garlicky escarole or sausage with broccoli-rabe every day of the week. I guess we should be thankful Italian food is hard to find here on the island…we’d probably weigh a couple hundred pounds more.

2. Tell us about one Kitchen Disaster story.

On our daughter’s second birthday we decided to host a birthday party at the restaurant. Six years ago we could not afford to close. We rented a bounce house and put a whole hog on a spit on the far end of the property (lechon a la varita), while we were open for dinner service. We planned to close early and start the party around eight. We were thankful for a rush that we unexpectedly got and the restaurant filled up. I became focused on cranking out the dishes and forgot about the pig until one of the customers ran over to me behind the grill and told me he thought the pig was on fire. When I looked up, I saw the smoke and flames and ran over to the spit….a little too late. The rendering fat from the pig fueled the flames past a point of no return. We closed the kitchen as planned and we watched the pig infused bonfire, while I steamed at not noticing it earlier. There was no food for the party so I hung my head low, cracked open a Medalla and ordered pizza for the guests.
Runner-up story: In the kitchen we like to play around with our staff meals. The pastelillo (otherwise known as the empanada) is a great vehicle for these experiments and we went through a phase in which we filled the empanada with all kinds of wacky stuff, leftovers were a favorite filling. Until this day. We couldn’t find a pastelillo we filled with spaghetti and meatballs we were going to fry up. We realized there had been a grave mistake…the tray with the spaghetti and meatballs pastelillos that were intended for staff meal, were mistaken for one of our desserts; Our signature dessert pastelillo that we fill with caramelized bananas. We then realized that a customer had “enjoyed” a dessert that consisted of an empanada filled with spaghetti and meatballs, coated in sugar and cinnamon with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. There were no complaints from the customer, they actually ate it before the discovery was made so it has sparked our curiosity…but it still hasn’t become a menu item.

3. Do you have any kitchen battle scars?

Aside from having heat resistant hands and the usual emotional baggage that we chefs possess, my skin is thick and heals pretty well…so the only scars that I have are tattoos and thinning hair from the stress. On my elbow and arm, I have a fried egg on a sizzling cast iron skillet, complete with flames, spatula and the salt and pepper. I also have a big calamari on my shin.

4. If your last day was tomorrow, what would be your last meal?

Raw Bar and a proper Beef Wellington.

5. What is and who makes your favorite knife?

My 10 inch Chef knife made by Korin.

6. Finish this sentence:

If I wasn’t a Chef, I would be a designer of some sorts because I feel like I have a good eye and attention to detail. I really enjoy that hands-on aspect of having my own restaurant, being able to express myself not only through my food but also have the physical aspects of the restaurant be a representation of me. We pick out everything for the restaurant and often end up designing our own furniture; from the textures of the cement to the stain of the wood, we put our stamp on it.

7. After a long work day, what do you do to decompress?

After a long day, I’ll have a muddled fresh citrus vodka tonic in my air conditioned living room while watching an episode of Treehouse Masters or American Greed.

8. What do you wish you had more time to do?

I wish I had more time to travel and exercise…I spend enough with the family, we all work together.

9. Besides cooking, do you have any other talents?

My wife enjoys telling others about it, but I rarely talk about my fascination with tropical flowers and arrangements.

10. What is your culinary “best-case” scenario?

I think I have found my best case scenario here at La Estacion in Puerto Rico. I am no longer subject to cooking in a basement as we have an outdoor kitchen, and I see my family all the time for they are an integral working part of the business. I also have the opportunity to grow my own vegetables and fruit. I liked fine dining professionally, but often hosted bbq’s at our home for fun. Here I have the freedom of cooking in the style of bbq and adding the refining touches that I also love.

Learn more about Chef Kevin Roth on his Chef’s Roll profile here.
Chef Kevin Roth will be participating at Puerto Rico Meets NYC in October.  Learn more about the event by clicking on the image below.