BEHIND THE LENS
MIAMI’S CUBAN SCENE BY ANA LORENZANA
Ana Lorenzana is a Colombian photographer trained in Paris, whose relentlessly creative eye led her to Mexico City, a place she has made her home for the past 10 years.
Through her photographic work in the local fashion and lifestyle industries, Ana discovered a passion for gastronomy while collaborating with the Mexican gastronomic culture magazine Hoja Santa. This resulted in a career pivot and, eventually, a position as Photo Editor for Food & Wine en Español between 2017 and 2018.
Her work is the product of Ana’s spontaneous curiosity and contagious energy. It has been featured in publications such as Crash Magazine, Nylon USA, Nylon México, El Espectador, Gatopardo, Travesías, Vogue Hommes, Vogue and 192 Magazine.
It is this restless spirit with which she set about to discover the particularities of the Cuban gastronomic scene and the role it plays in the Magic City, also known as Miami.
Tell us briefly about this trip.
I went to Miami to visit my cousin, but had a lot of time for myself, which is why I decided to do this series about Cuban food.
I’ve always liked Calle Ocho, and I’ve visited many times, however, never with specific recommendations of must-visit spots by Cubans or connoisseurs.
This time, I asked a journalist I admire for suggestions. I had just read her book Latinx (which I highly recommend). It was Paola Ramos, who has a Mexican father and a Cuban mother. She grew up in Spain, and also in Miami. I thought it would be a dream to have her recommendations, since she’s mentioned in several interviews that when she’s in Miami, she feels Cuban.
I decided to write to her, and luckily, received an answer. She recommended ham croquettes and a cortadito at the Ventanita de Versailles— which I already knew from a previous trip thanks to my beloved Talamas—, a frita sandwich at El Rey de las Fritas and a Cuban sandwich at Enriqueta’s in Wynwood.
Without thinking twice, I called an Uber and went straight to the Ventanita de Versailles. From then on, the photos speak for themselves. I decided to also stop for an ice cream at Azúcar, since I’ve always liked the giant neon ice cream on its facade, and I love the texture of its cones; they’re smooth, delicious and perfectly complement your ice cream.
Do you remember the first time you tried Cuban cuisine #MadeInMiami?
I do remember this perfectly because I asked Kelly Talamas for her favorite spot, and she sent me to the Ventanita de Versailles for a cortadito. Since then, I’ve been several times. I love going alone. So many things happen in that place, there are incredible conversations, “the usuals” and the tourists trying to understand the usuals. I love just being there.
Miami is a melting pot of cultures, particularly of the Latin American variety. You’ve photographed many destinations. What’s one thing about Miami that makes it unique?
I’ve been going there all my life, very much on automatic. I almost never carry a camera. It’s my place to do nothing, but it’s a city that’s very familiar to me and to which I feel very close.
I really like going back and forth, and I don’t mind going to do nothing. Being there makes me feel good. You can eat very good food from all over the world at very affordable prices.
They say that the Cuban diaspora in Miami connects through food. Versailles, for example, more than a restaurant, is a meeting point for Cubans from all over the world. Any anecdotes that you’ve witnessed in this respect?
I love going to La Ventanita alone because it’s like going to see a movie, just observing Cubans and tourists.
This time, I made a dear new Cuban friend who convinced me to try the guava and cheese pastelito, and he was right. It’s the same as our Gloria pastel in Colombia, and it’s my dad’s favorite; he buys it every day at Carulla.
That bite sent me home in a second. So, I was in Miami, feeling like I was in Cuba and I traveled– thanks to a flavor– to Bogota. Wow! That’s when I realized that we are all the same, we have the same roots, we have the same sweet palate… sugar, friends, we are sugar (ha, ha, ha).
Have you traveled to Cuba? Is it true that authentic Cuban food is found in Miami?
I went to Cuba for only 48 hours, and the food was not the center of attention, so I can’t say I understood that.
On the other hand, I made videos of several of the places I visited in Miami, and most of the comments were negative due to the difficult situation on the island. Many people criticized “calling this that I ate Cuban food” and there was debate on what was said.
I understand where the anger comes from, and all this led me to read about the situation in Cuba and the responsibility that comes with talking about things that one doesn’t master. A complicated topic.
If you only had a couple of hours to try the Cuban gastronomic experience in Miami, where would you go?
I loved El Rey de las Fritas. It’s like traveling back in time, and I imagine also feeling a bit in Cuba. The colors of the place, that bar with the yellow seats, the old photos on the menu, El Gordo y la Flaca on TV… I could go back to that place a thousand times.
I wanted to try their flan, which they say is delicious, but it was very hot and I wanted to eat ice cream at Azúcar, which is a few blocks away.
I think I loved that combo of El Rey de las Fritas, a walk along Calle Ocho and arriving at Azúcar.
If you had to choose your favorite thing about Miami, what would it be?
I don’t think it’s Miami, but that I have family I love very much there. I would say being in their garden by the pool with them, that’s what I’m going for at the end of the day.
Well, and if I have to choose a place, the 1111 Lincoln Road building by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, is crazy to me. It’s always really impressed me.
What does Calle Ocho smell like?
Un olor a tabaco y café (singing) ha, ha, ha… like the Bacilos song.
What does it taste like?
A fried plantain, without a doubt; my favorite food. In all the restaurants I visited, you could ask for extra plantain and put it on your sandwich or on your fries, and that’s the planet I want to live on… everything with fried plantain, always.
Your best discovery of this trip?
I liked feeling so close to Cuban flavors and understanding their good vibes, they’re rough around the edges, and I like it.
What do you enjoy photographing more, the process of creating the food or the final product?
Having the honor of being invited to a kitchen is incredible; we give more value to the final product. Knowing the effort behind a dish you love makes you love it even more.
I love getting into kitchens. It seems to me that people criticize restaurant food with an ease and fearful detachment because they’ve never witnessed the effort behind it.
Behind a plate there are many people doing the best they can. Understanding this has led me to have a lot of consideration for everyone who works in this industry. It’s difficult, it requires a lot of discipline, it requires a lot of physical effort, what cooks and restaurateurs do is respectful. I admire them.
When you think of Miami, what song comes to mind?
No, well… let’s all sing:
“Come on, shake your body baby,
Do the conga
I know you can’t control yourself
Feel the rhythm of the music
Don’t you fight it till you’ve tried it
Do the conga beat”
A dish or drink that everyone should try?
The Cuban cortadito is a jewel, and with a ham croquette on the side, even more so.
A local word or slang?
I don’t know, but the other day I saw a video of a woman from Miami talking about the words that make you sound like a person who grew up there, and she said “pero like”. I died laughing. I love that Spanglish that they dominate.
A destination you’d like to photograph?
I’ve been repeating this lately: I’d like to photograph the food of my country. I would like to understand Colombia through its food as I’ve done with Mexico. I hope I get to do this one day.
Best Cuban coffee?
La Ventanita at Versailles really has a delicious cortadito and visiting is always a good plan.
Best croqueta preparada?
I don’t know if it’s the best, but my Cuban Enriqueta’s sandwich had croquettes inside too. and I thought it was spectacular. Obviously, I put fried plantain in it… you know that my planet has everything with fried plantain, please, and croquette with fried plantain, GREAT COMBINATION.