The executive chef at Habana is cool under pressure. “I crave the rush,” says chef Jordan Borlaza. He comes from a family of professional chefs who instilled in him a love for food that is “warm and homey,” with a sense of nostalgia and family. “When you come to Habana, I’ll make you feel special,” he says. “I’ll make you feel at home.”
What’s the Habana experience?
You’ll feel like you’re in old Cuba. It’s an escape from reality. Between the food, the music, the lighting and the ambiance, you’ll ask yourself, ‘Am I in Irvine or am I in Havana?’
What makes your cuisine stand out?
Our restaurant is a scratch kitchen. We make all of our own sauces and everything in-house. We receive all of our fresh produce, proteins and everything, and our prep cooks get here at 2 a.m. to make everything from scratch. Even things like mayonnaise, which most restaurants buy, we make by hand.
Most popular item on the menu?
Our No. 1 dish is the Ropa Vieja. It’s one of those comfort dishes you never get tired of eating. The beef is cooked for hours, then shredded and cooked again with onions, peppers, tomatoes and spices. The flavors just melt together. It’s served over buttered white rice with our sofrito black beans and sweet plantains.
What sandwich do you recommend?
Our Media Noche. It’s smoked ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles and, the best part, our slow-roasted pork. You put all that on a sweet roll, butter the top, put it in a panini press to let it slowly cook, toast and melt. Then enjoy it with fries and our homemade banana-habanero ketchup.
Describe your team.
I have a team of 27 people that includes sous chefs, line cooks, prep cooks, a pastry team and a team to make our empanadas from scratch.
How do you inspire them?
I make them a family meal every day, usually a stew or tacos or pasta with garlic bread – so they feel appreciated and loved. It just brings everyone together, and it gives you time to talk and see how everyone is doing.