Q: Do you think Toms River is ready for this?
A: I think Toms River needs this.
It was only a few years ago that Caneda’s “An Empanada Experience” snuck up on us on Fischer Boulevard in Toms River and gave the gastronomically-curious a small sampling of Cuban cuisine in empanada form. But owner Patricia Caneda envisioned something more. Something bigger. Something much different than an empanada eatery.
After purchasing the space that once housed the old Rivoli’s restaurant, and going through a long, arduous renovation project, her vision is now a reality. Opened on August 27th, Caneda’s White Rooster is a full-scale Cuban restaurant that’s unlike anything seen in Ocean County. (Please take a moment and view the gallery on the restaurant’s website. My digital camera has been acting wonky lately, and my pics didn’t do the place any justice.)
Does the story end there? Of course the story doesn’t end there.
After only a day or two of service, the restaurant’s rice machine breaks down. Then, members of the cooking team decide to not turn up – leaving Patricia and her executive chef to scramble to make due. Calling everyone and anyone she knew in the business, Patricia was able to assemble a new crew and keep things going with only minor changes to the menu. By the end of the first week, the restaurant was able to handle a party of twenty-one (!!!) people.
With all the craziness, Patricia took a few moments to answer some questions.
EiSJ: What’s it feel like to have White Rooster finally open after all the time spent and all of the work that had to be done?
It is a big relief to finally see all of my ideas and concepts come to life in full bloom.
EiSJ: What was the most difficult challenge you faced during this process?
It’s never easy trying to communicate something that is so alive in your minds eye. It took a few tries to get my ideas across but when they came to life it was surreal.
EiSJ: How much did your initial ideas about the restaurant have to change or be altered?
Honestly, not very much – and most of it was so off the cuff. Sometimes it would as a fleeting thought; and, of course, Cuba’s landscape is already so inspiring. It wasn’t very difficult for me at all.
EiSJ: Talk about your chef (Chef Garcia) and the culinary vision of the restaurant. Is it a shared vision? Is it mainly yours? The chef’s? Somewhere in the middle?
Chef Garcia is an artist. A true Picasso in the kitchen. I wanted the baseline of the menu to remain a strong traditional selection of Cuban fare while allowing Chef Garcia to infuse his flavors with slight alterations and his gift for plating a dish.
EiSJ: How much did you draw from your roots for inspiration?
All of it is my roots. Everything from the pops of red color in the patio furniture, espresso machine, line lights, and the red rose garden. Red is my grandmother’s color. The sliders in the dining room were designed to be reminiscent of my grandparents headboard, and the dishes are all I ever knew.
EiSJ: For someone coming to your restaurant who may not be familiar with Cuban cuisine, what advice do you offer?
I would recommend driving down to your favorite protein and choosing from the selection of those dishes available based on preferences in how it is prepared. Unless you’re just going to go for it and close your eyes and just pick something!
EiSJ: Do you think Toms River is ready for this?
I think Toms River needs this.