We hear the word terroir more and more every day—not just about wine, but with coffee, chocolate, even sugar. While you might have a sense of what it means, from technical definitions (“the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype”) or the experience of eating something in the very place where it was grown, there seems to be room for a deeper look at the concept and how it affects all we eat and drink.
The Puerto Rican food supply is fragile: Eighty percent of it is imported, and pricing regulations generally favor imports over local goods. This is often lost in the discussion of its ongoing $72 billion debt crisis, rampant unemployment, and people leaving the island in droves for Florida or New York.
You hear “Puerto Rico” and an array of meats and fried foods come to mind: tostones, mofongo, carne frita, crispy pig skin turning golden while the whole animal roasts on a spit. But that picture doesn’t tell the whole story, especially not in the kitchen of Juan José Cuevas, the executive chef at 1919 Restaurant in San Juan. “In the preparation of the ingredients used for each dish, the intention is to bring the flavor forward without distraction,” he says.