CUBA UN­PLUGGED

Florida woman's fun tours, in­sider's per­spec­tive, how lo­cals eke out a liv­ing

RSWLiving - - Contents - BY LIBBY MCMILL AN HEN­SON

Florida woman's fun tours, in­sider's per­spec­tive, how lo­cals eke out a liv­ing

Cuban-born chef Glo­ria M. Jor­dan is beloved in South­west Florida for her two restau­rants and her bub­bly per­son­al­ity. Jor­dan’s adorable way with words, zany sense of hu­mor, zest for life and seem­ingly un­lim­ited en­ergy are all part of her recipe for suc­cess. De­li­cious food doesn’t hurt her pop­u­lar­ity, ei­ther.

Now, how­ever, she has an ad­di­tional pas­sion. When this saucy force of na­ture be­gan lead­ing small tour groups to her na­tive Ha­vana in early 2016, it was a dream come true for those of us who had longed to see Cuba, but were ei­ther in­tim­i­dated by lo­gis­tics or long­ing for an in­sider’s per­spec­tive.

Flash for­ward to the end of 2017, and Fort My­ers’s ir­re­sistible chef-turned-guide has in­tro­duced un­told vis­i­tors to her beloved Cuba. While her La Trat­to­ria Café Napoli and farm-to-ta­ble Mer­maid Gar­den Café crank along dur­ing her short ab­sences, Jor­dan en­er­get­i­cally re­veals the vi­brancy of her coun­try of ori­gin to ad­ven­tur­ous groups from South­west Florida.

Her in­tense four-day ex­cur­sions go beyond mere tourism; Jor­dan is on a mis­sion to in­tro­duce vis­i­tors to the broad spec­trum of mak­ers and hos­pi­tal­ity providers in Ha­bana. She care­fully cu­rates an ever-grow­ing list of tal­ented chefs and pri­vately owned restau­rants, artists and stu­dios, and own­ers of rental homes and driv­ing ser­vices. Pre-de­par­ture in­for­ma­tion is thin, by most stan­dards. But those in Jor­dan’s ca­pa­ble hands dis­cover in time that what ini­tially ap­pear to be fairly spon­ta­neous ex­pe­ri­ences have been deftly or­ches­trated from a mas­ter list, around weather, hunger, en­ergy lev­els and un­ex­pected needs and de­sires.

Af­ter grow­ing up in Cuba, Jor­dan left Ha­vana in 1992 to pur­sue a culi­nary ed­u­ca­tion in Stockholm. Upon grad­u­at­ing from Umea Univer­sity School of Restau­rant and Culi­nary Arts, she moved to Spain, spend­ing the next four years hon­ing her culi­nary skills. Mediter­ranean cui­sine is the in­spi­ra­tion for the menu at Jor­dan’s trat­to­ria. Opened in 2005 and ex­panded in 2009, this pop­u­lar lunch and din­ner hub near Bell Tower Shops is where many tour group mem­bers first come to know their fu­ture guide. “Cuba is dif­fer­ent,” ex­plains this dy­namo chef-turned-guide. “It takes you back to the past, and it’s mys­ti­cal.

“What makes me happy,” adds Jor­dan, “is that I can ed­u­cate peo­ple about some­thing that I know well: my coun­try. You get to know its food, its mu­sic, its art. It’s a big sat­is­fac­tion.”

The ro­tat­ing list of pri­vately owned restau­rants that chef Glo­ria in­cludes in her care­fully cu­rated itin­er­ary all have ab­so­lutely smash­ing food. In th­ese un­der-the-radar pal­adares, din­ers are con­sis­tently de­lighted with fresh, in­no­va­tive cui­sine―snap­per carpac­cio, tan­ta­liz­ing ce­viches, slow-roasted pork with aro­matic rice, mango and avo­cado salad―and of­ten in beau­ti­fully de­signed spa­ces. Pro­pri­etors know their reg­u­lar pa­tron is also a chef, and work hard to as­sure her guests are pleased.

Ha­vana’s cock­tail scene is one of its more pro­nounced throw­backs to the ’50s. Rum is the stan­dard, of course, and flows freely. Freshly made mo­ji­tos have never tasted bet­ter, and a frozen daiquiri (pro­nounced DIE-kuh-ree in Ha­vana) is a must. Night­time en­ter­tain­ment spans the gamut from retro lounges with tal­ented Ricky Ri­cardo-style bands, to the hippest of dance

clubs. Floor shows like the Trop­i­cana’s iconic ex­trav­a­ganza hap­pily pile on the time-warp vibe, but Ha­vana does have a few uber-mod­ern night­clubs as well.

Be­ing in Ha­vana is a rich, per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence that many guests con­tinue to process long af­ter re­turn­ing home. More of an ex­pe­di­tion than a va­ca­tion, the trip presents what you ex­pect: the mag­nif­i­cent cars, the iconic Malecón, feath­ered dancers, fab­u­lous live Afro-Cuban mu­sic, eye-pop­ping ar­chi­tec­ture and mo­ji­tos ga­lore. But there’s also a lot you don’t ex­pect: the gra­cious peo­ple; the mag­nif­i­cent food that Jor­dan makes pos­si­ble; the level of dis­in­te­gra­tion in once-beau­ti­ful neigh­bor­hoods; and the many clever and tal­ented en­trepreneurs who’ve found a way to eke out a liv­ing via tourism.

Ad­mit­tedly, Ha­vana has more chal­lenges than typ­i­cal travel ar­ti­cles ref­er­ence, but hav­ing been there, one un­der­stands the temp­ta­tion to leave neg­a­tives out of the con­ver­sa­tion. So many tal­ented lo­cals have hope for their Ha­vana and their own fu­ture, you can’t help but cheer them on. The mi­nor in­con­ve­niences one ex­pe­ri­ences are not what are re­mem­bered. Mem­o­ries con­sist, in­stead, of chef Glo­ria’s hi­lar­i­ous mi­cro­phone mono­logues in the 10-pas­sen­ger van; drink­ing rum from a co­conut on the beach; and hav­ing a life-chang­ing ad­ven­ture with your bud­dies.

From left at top are Ha­vana scenes of the in­te­rior of a rental home, a lively pedes­trian street and vin­tage Amer­i­can cars avail­able for rent. Be­low is the out­door pa­tio area of El Bosquecito bar and cafe­te­ria.

El Floridita (top), lo­cated in Ha­vana's older sec­tion, is one of the city's his­toric culi­nary de­lights. Above, mo­ji­tos line the bar at Ha­vana's well-known La Bode­guita del Me­dio.

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