Story: Adam Hunt | Photography: Chris Redd
Ocala’s not the first place to come to mind when you think of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine. But I’m sure after reading this culinary review, you may want to carve out a new destination on your roadmap to delicious dining.
Created by Chefs Jose Troche and Joel Ortiz, the restaurant Chayote is quickly becoming a hotspot for those seeking a taste of Puerto Rico. The two Chefs are both natives from the neighboring island and bring a combined 30 years of culinary mastery to the table. They also share more than just their birthplace in common. They both attended the same school and obtained their craft at the Caribbean Culinary Institute of Puerto Rico, where they both graduated with honors. But yet the two had never met. Chef Troche had attended the school during the day, while Chef Ortiz attended at night.
After graduating Chef Troche took a job at Paya, a world renowned restaurant in San Juan, PR. There, under the watchful eye of now famous Chef Wilo Benet, he perfected his skill. Later Troche went on to further his career and education at West Palm Culinary Institute. He has also held the position of Executive Chef at the Cheesecake Factory in Orlando, as well as sharing his knowledge as the Head Chef at Ocala’s very own Community Technical & Adult Education Center (CTAE).
Upon Chef Ortiz’s departure from Puerto Rico to the mainland, he took a job in West Palm at the Beach Club, where he honed his skills in seafood and shellfish. And yes, you guessed it! He also attended West Palm’s Culinary Institute. Ortiz has also held Staff positions at the premier Rolling Rock Club of Pittsburgh, PA and the Union Elite Club of Chicago, where they are known for their thick and juicy select cuts of beef steak.
The two Chefs embody the contrast of the island’s cuisine. Chef Troche coming from the city of Yauco with its hillside country living, where they fire roast only the wildest game stock of pork, chicken and beef. Then there is Chef Ortiz from the city of Ponce with its white sand beaches and fresh fish plucked right of the sea. You put these two together and you have the Paelle called “Chayote Latin American Cuisine & Catering.”
As I sat down to enjoy the dining experience at Chayote, I couldn’t help but notice the sign above the kitchen door which read, “Good food, Good friends and Good times.” There was also the rhythmic sound of Salsa music playing in the background which seemed to be keeping time with the swinging door to the kitchen. Plate after plate was placed before me with every dish looking more appetizing than the previous one.
The first dish was the apertivos or appetizer, the Tostones Rellenos. A fried plantain stuffed with my choice of chicken, pulled pork or seafood. There are also other delicious and savory appetizers to choose from. The Croquetas de Jamon, a Latin twist to the classic Croquette using ham instead of salmon. The Pulpo y Carrucho, a seafood salad melody of fresh conch, snapper and cod. But if you don’t want to fill up on appetizers, Chayote has a great selection of salads. The menu plays host to a traditional house salad, caesar salad, and chef salad. The sandwiches at Chayote are perfect for lunch. They have the signature Tripleta, a mountain of three meats piled high with chicken, pork and ham. There’s also the Churrasco, a skirt steak sandwich ready to take on the hungriest lunch time rush.
The second dish or Plato Pricipal (Main Course) was a dynamic display of Chayote Sous Chef Luis Silva. He had prepared an amazing dish called Chillo Frito. It was a deep fried red snapper pinned to the plate with the perfect blend of seasoning and attention to detail. Alongside that dish lay the most succulent tasting pork chop I have ever tasted. The Chuleta Kan-Kan, a salty bladed piece of pork giving me enormous mouth-watering pleasure. Each dish came with two sides. The snapper was paired Tostones (Fried Green Plantains) and Amarillitos (Sweet Plantains). The pork chop rested between two mounds of Arroz Mamposteado (Puerto-Rican Dirty Rice and Red Beans). There are other tummy filling dishes on the menu. The Gallinita Rellena (Stuffed Cornish Hen) and the Salmon Fresco en Glasesdo Balsmico, a lightly baked freshly caught salmon glazed in a balsamic dressing.
The third and final dish was the Postres or Dessert. Chayote has all of the Latin favorites in-tow. Flans, (Creamy Custards) offered in both Vsinilla (vanilla) and Queso (cream cheese). Tres Leches de Chocolate and Tres Leches de Clasico a very moist fluffy cake, again both in your choice of chocolate or vanilla.
Chayote is located on 2209 East Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala, Florida. Their doors are open Tuesday – Thursday from 10am to 8pm, on Friday and Saturday from 10am to 10pm, and Sunday from11am to 7pm. They also have a Happy Hour from 4pm – 6pm. On Saturdays they have live music and dancing starting at 7pm and ending at 9pm. So go like their Facebook page and enjoy in Ocala’s very own piece of Puerto Rico.