Beach Fare with International Flair
Growing up, I spent many weekends at the beach with my family. Before heading to the ocean for the day, my mother would pack a picnic lunch. The bologna sandwiches would inevitably end up with a layer of sand in between the mustard and soggy lettuce, and the Hawaiian Punch left a red mustache that blended in with the sunburn on my cheeks. Hardly the makings of a gourmet feast. Oh how times have changed, as I quickly realized after a stop at La Cocina on St. Augustine Beach.
Tucked inside a hotel on A1A, La Cocina has a loyal local clientele who appreciate an international menu that is not typical beach grub, and owner Norberto Jaramillo is excited to share his love of authentic flavors with his customers. Asian, Spanish, Italian, French and South American dishes are offered, and daily specials take advantage of the local seasonal produce and seafood.
A career in food service is not always a straight path, so it helps to be versatile and ready to jump at opportunities presented along the way. As you grab at the proffered golden ring, you might even uncover hidden talents. Jaramillo can attest to the value of pursuing new ventures, as he did when offered the chance to purchase La Cocina three years ago. While he had worked in restaurants for many years, cooking was not part of his resume, until he assumed ownership of La Cocina. “All my brothers are chefs, but I had never cooked. Once I bought this place, after working here for seven years—always front of the house: serving, managing the staff and dealing with customers—I discovered a passion I never thought I had. I discovered how rewarding it is to cook,” said Jaramillo, the excitement of that revelation still evident in his voice.
When you look at Jaramillo’s upbringing, it’s not surprising that he eventually found his way to the kitchen. He recalls the garden his family had in the backyard while growing up in Colombia, and how it all was put to good use. “We grew everything: coffee, yucca, lemons, limes, raspberries, corn, all kinds of vegetables. And my mother cooked it all. I guess that’s where the passion for good food and flavorful ingredients started,” said Jaramillo.
Like the eclectic menu, the staff itself is a cultural mélange. Executive Chef Marcel Vizcarra hails from Peru, while other employees are from Mexico, Poland, Chile, Venezuela, Hungary and St. Augustine. “Everyone gets along,” said Jaramillo. “It’s fun to watch us cook and work together.”
Jaramillo and Vizcarra share a similar vision of the food they want to prepare for their customers. “We serve food the way we would like to eat it, bringing out just the right element in simple ingredients,” said Jaramillo. “Some of our dishes take a great deal of time to prepare but the final product is worth it.”
La Cocina participated in the Tour de Farm 2015, partnering with a nearby farm, Guerrilla Growery. “We get microgreens from them for some of our dishes,” Jaramillo said. He is eager to work with other local growers and utilize what’s available in the region whenever possible.
“It’s hard to get the amount of free-range chicken that we need, but we will keep looking for sources. I want to incorporate more local products onto the menu and I hope to work with other farmers in the area,” said Jaramillo.
Global delights made with the region’s best products? Sorry soggy bologna sandwich, I think you lost your seat at the table.
For more information or to book a reservation, visit La Cocina's website at www.lacocinarestaurants.com.