Danny Alas and Justin Rodriguez
Paloma Cafe • New Orleans
Everything Danny Alas and Justin Rodriguez do exudes hospitality and invites everyone to the table—traits that put them right at home in the South.
For Danny, the road to becoming a chef was never a direct path. While she was growing up in Venezuela, her mother was an avid cook and baker; once they relocated to Miami, her mother began cooking in a professional environment. Danny admits she always felt close to the industry, but it was not necessarily her own. But Danny’s mother nudged her in the direction of the culinary arts.
“I felt scattered. But once I was cooking professionally for a while, it started to fall into place,” reflects Danny. “It feels good to be doing something that I can see my growth in a tangible way.”
Justin, on the other hand, grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey watching Food Network and observing his grandmother prepare meals for his family.
“My grandmother was a huge influence for me as far as cooking. She was kind of like the matriarch of our family,” says Justin.
Justin, whose family hails from the Dominican Republic, says his grandmother was initially apprehensive about his interest.
“In our culture, normally the women are the ones who cook,” he says, “but she showed me the ropes.” She, along with Justin’s mother, fostered an environment that allowed his interest to grow into a passion. This passion led Justin to culinary school, where he met Danny—proving to be an invaluable experience for them both as they’ve been working together since.
Three years ago, the duo decided to leave jobs in North Carolina, head straight to New Orleans, and work with Chef Nina Compton, the 2018 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: South.
“I feel like New Orleans is just known as a food destination, so we knew it was going to be a good place for us to develop professionally,” says Danny. “New Orleans embraces everything that people can bring to the table.”
“We thought it was a great opportunity to do something new,” Justin adds. “We didn’t have time to come visit beforehand. It was a blind move, but it definitely turned out amazing for us.”
Before Danny and Justin joined Revelator Coffee Company at Paloma Cafe last year, they briefly turned out Latin-inspired street food with a pop-up called Melao.
“The pop-up was the beginning of us spreading our wings, making decisions for ourselves, planning a menu, and conceptualizing our ideas,” says Danny. By joining Revelator, Danny says it’s allowed them to bring all of those things into reality and have “full creative freedom.”
Now with their wings spread, Danny and Justin serve Latin and Caribbean-inspired fare—like their vegan take on Asopao de Gandules—for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch.
“This is something that I grew up eating, but we’ve changed it a bit,” Justin says, noting it is typically made with chicken. “Our food is very traditional; it’s peasant food. You take a little bit of what you have, and you make it stretch to feed your family.”
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 cup diced green bell pepper
- 1 cup diced carrot
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- 1½ tablespoons ground annatto
- 1 tablespoon adobo
- 1 tablespoon fresh Mexican oregano
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups cooked green pigeon peas
- ½ cup minced fresh cilantro
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Garlic Cilantro Aïoli (recipe follows)
- Fried Capers (recipe follows)
- Tostones (recipe follows)
- Garnish: sliced Fresno peppers, micro cilantro
- In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers, carrot, and garlic; cook for about 8 minutes. Add rice, annatto, adobo, oregano, garlic powder, and onion powder. Slowly add 4 cups water, about 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until all the water is incorporated, about 20 minutes. Gently stir in pigeon peas and cilantro. Add coconut milk, and season to taste with salt. Cook until stew has thickened but is still loose and creamy, about 5 minutes. Transfer to serving bowls, and top with Garlic Cilantro Aïoli and Fried Capers. Serve with Tostones. Garnish with peppers and cilantro, if desired.
- ½ cup Vegenaise
- ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- Pinch kosher salt
- In the work bowl of a food processor, place all ingredients; process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- 4 cups canola oil
- ½ cup capers, rinsed and well drained
- In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350°. Place capers on a double layer of paper towels. Pat dry with additional paper towels, and let rest for 30 minutes to absorb any remaining liquid. Gently add capers to oil; fry until they puff and become light and flaky, about 2 minutes. Let drain on paper towels, and serve warm.
- 1 to 2 unripe green plantains
- Canola oil, for frying
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Peel plantains, and cut into 1-inchthick slices.
- In a large deep skillet, pour oil to a depth of 2 inches, and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 375˚.
- Fry plantains until golden, 3 to 5 minutes. While still warm, flatten plantains to about ¼-inch thickness using a tortilla press or flat bottom of a glass. Fry plantains again until golden yellow on both sides. Using a slotted spoon, remove from oil, and let drain on paper towels. Season to taste with salt. Serve immediately.
Join Justin, Danny, and the other 2018 Louisiana’ Cookin Chefs to Watch for an exclusive six-course dinner at Galatoire’s Restaurant in New Orleans!