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  • Damaris Chanza

Making the Cubanos from Jon Favreau's Chef

Jon Favreau’s Chef made us yearn for some Cubanos, so my boyfriend and I set out to make some.

I recently reviewed Chef, and it reminded me of the days my boyfriend, George, and I would spend our quarantine dates cooking food, how we took a food tour of Philadelphia, and how our eating habits have changed since we started living together. Usually, when I watch a movie to review for the blog, he opts out, but when I mentioned Chef, he eagerly sat by my side to watch it together.

Like anyone else who has seen Chef, we instantly wanted to eat the dishes showcased in the movie. With food and cooking being our love language, we decided to make it ourselves instead of scrolling through UberEats to find a Cubano that doesn’t live up to the film.

Thankfully, Favreau anticipated such actions and released the recipe for the film’s Cubanos here.

Little did we know just the pork shoulder would take eighteen hours to make, but we did not hesitate. I made a grocery list, and we ventured to ShopRite to buy all the ingredients. All the ingredients were relatively common and easy to find; the only thing we probably wouldn’t usually have in our pantry is rice vinegar.

The first step is to brine the pork shoulder for twelve hours. Because we only bought a three-pound pork shoulder, we decided to half the recipe. When the brine didn’t entirely cover the meat, we second-guessed and added the other half of the ingredients. If we had some foresight to buy Ziploc bags, we might not have taken that extra step.

We slept cuddled in our thin blanket as the meat soaked in a citrus-heavy brine. I had to go to the office in the morning while George had the day off and could sleep uninterrupted. When I returned, the meat had been brining for fourteen hours. We quickly stepped into action and worked on the next step, marinating the pork for two hours.

Some liberties we took with the recipe include some dried herbs instead of fresh, the rice vinegar was infused with basil and oregano, and we used extra virgin olive oil. Making the marinade was time-consuming because the half cup of lime juice had to be freshly squeezed, and the orange zest was a pain.

Two hours later, we can finally put the meat in the oven. We put it in an aluminum tray at 250F, basting every thirty minutes. For five hours, we lived at thirty-minute intervals, each time growing more impatient due to the fantastic smell culminating from our oven. It was cartoonish how we followed our noses, practically floating over to the oven. Eventually, the entire apartment was consumed by the aroma of roast pork.

Finally, it was time – the pork was done. Unable to wait any longer, I burned my fingertips to slice a piece, haphazardly piecing it with my fork and shoving it into my mouth. It was nothing like I had ever tasted. I rushed over to George and shoved a piece of pork in his mouth too. Astonished, we started assembling a Cubano.

I despise the taste of pickles, so my sandwich lacked that ingredient. I pressed it in our brand new Panini press.

If you’ve seen Ratatouille, you know the scene where Remi takes a bite of a strawberry and cheese, and fireworks go off in his mind as he moans with pleasure. Maybe it was the nearly twenty-four-hour wait, the sense of starvation, or the sleepiness starting to take over my body, but by the time I took a bite of my Cubano, I was over it. It was delicious, like nothing I had ever tasted before, but I just wanted to eat it. I couldn’t enjoy all the effort I had put in or savor all the nuanced flavors of the seasoning. I was hungry, and it could’ve been two-day-old Mcnuggets; I would’ve still enjoyed it at that point.

George doesn’t like to eat so close to going to bed, so he only took one bite of my Cubano and decided it needed something fresh, presumably the pickle he’s used to having on his sandwich. He had his Cubano for lunch the next day and thought it tasted weird cold.

Eating our Cubanos may not have been equivalent to watching people cook it on Chef and may not have been as euphoric as Remy’s experience with a simple strawberry, but I would do it all over again. Who knows, maybe we did something wrong; I wouldn’t doubt that we did. But more importantly, it gave something for George and me to work together on and anticipate.

We have memories of making a mess by throwing water at each other when we’re supposed to be washing dishes and accidentally splashing bright green marinade all over our shirts. We danced horribly in the kitchen and argued over who was doing something wrong. The little things like cooking subpar Cubanos together remind us why we love one another.

Inspired by the son's one-second-a-day video, George and I recorded our Cubano-making journey.

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