It took Francis Guzmán an entire year to master sourdough. “It was something I really wanted to make from scratch, pero [but] it was one of the few things I had never learned in other restaurants,” the chef and co-owner of San Juan’s Vianda restaurant recalls. “So I got some cookbooks, and started the trial and error, and kept going until I got it.”
It was a year well spent. The wild-yeast bread is the base for Vianda’s signature starter: a sourdough tostada topped with homemade ricotta, organic green and yellow zucchini, and pesto made from local basil. It’s a simple yet confident dish that proves the power of good ingredients. It’s also a soupçon of Guzmán’s cooking style: hyper-seasonal and unfussy, polished and refined.
To be sure, there’s an unmistakable streak of French classic technique in everything the chef creates, a nod not only to his training at the Culinary Institute of America but also to his three years as sous chef at New York’s the Modern. (Other highlights from his résumé include Dan Barber’s Blue Hill and Jardinière in San Francisco.) Yet Vianda is clearly rooted in Puerto Rico, incorporating the flavors from Guzmán’s upbringing—as with his mariscada, which rethinks the island staple of mashed plantains known as mofongo by mixing it with
“WE SAW A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO COME AND REALLY DO SOMETHING HERE.”
shrimp and mussels and serving it beneath grilled salmon—and manipulating his menu weekly to use only the freshest local ingredients available.
But Vianda, which Guzmán opened with his wife, Amelia Dill (shown), in March, isn’t just an act of nostalgia—it’s a play for culinary progress. “San Francisco and New York made us love restaurants,
pero when we came back to Puerto Rico, we were frustrated,” he says. “The service was subpar, and the food was just whatever. We saw a great opportunity to come and really do something here.” And do something they did, converting a once-empty storefront in the Santurce neighborhood into a sleek dining space and hiring an impassioned team that includes other returning island natives like Gina Micheli, the restaurant’s effervescent sommelier.
Still, it is Guzmán’s careful and elevated dishes—from his sourdough tostadas to his spicy tom kha bacalao to his tagliatelle stuffed with braised rabbit and turmeric— that represent the future of Puerto Rico’s dining scene. And that future, however long it takes to happen, is certainly bright.