Claudio y Beto Bistro & Coffee is a must in Salinas, a dive that is much more than the fusion of culinary styles or a place to eat a specific type of food. Beto’s cuisine relies on his inventiveness and a life integrating flavors into every dish. And the result, a journey for those who experience it. In this article, Alberto Elizalde Yulee recounts his own experience keeping the flame of his dream bistro-café alive…
Chronicle of a four-year sabbatical
by Alberto Elizalde Yulee
“Who’s the chef?
An architect that cooks for the love of cooking. No culinary school on his resumé, no Cordon Blue, no diplomas. This is not Asian, Ecuadorian, fusion… Forget the categories, I can’t even begin to explain what it is. Influences come from everywhere: Ecuador, China, Colombia, France, Spain, Italy, India, Thailand… This is flavor, authentic flavor.
He loves baking bread but also cooking up lamb chops.
He’ll prepare BBQ ribs or frog legs in butter.
A grilled vegetable ratatouille or perhaps improvise with what he’s found in the market that day.
The point is: this is true authenticity.
He learned to cook because he couldn’t always find what he liked. And now he’s been in the kitchen for 40 years. Finally, he’ll be doing what he likes best publicly. Born into a family where food is the ultimate pleasure and cooking, a privilege and talent everyone would love to possess: that’s why hundreds of recipes abound in his head.
This lifetime of flavors keeps you in a constant state of discovery. It’s like having dinner at a friend’s house. At el Beto, el Chino, Alberto, Confucius, Luis… the many names that identify one passionate chef in the heart of Salinas!
For now, this bistro-café will be a Terrace-Bar and Grill open during summer from December 25 to April 15, 2017.” (Jaime Molestina Elizalde, Salinas Dec / 2016)
These kind words were written by my nephew Jaime when showcasing the chef —me, his uncle Alberto— when I began, in December 2016, a life adventure of seeking to fulfill the dream of every culinary hobbyist: to open a place of his own and make his recipes known and enjoyed by others.
What began as an extended sabbatical is now four years old, four years which have passed like a gentle breeze blowing the sail of an old ochre-wood caravel, under the orange sunset of Salinas’ bay: sailing in good company, which is how new journeys like these should always be enjoyed.
What began as a dive in the gazebo of our family hotel, with four plastic tables, a simple kitchenette made in Quito’s Vargas market, and all the enthusiasm that one could muster when starting an uncertain adventure before turning 60… is now a well-beloved bistro with good coffee. A small restaurant that takes advantage of the most nostalgic corners of the Yulee Hotel, that 85-year-old family house where we can still feel the aura of its splendid hostess, Olinda Taysing de Yulee—my grandmother, the original owner. In some lucky moments, you may even get a whiff of her eternal Chanel No. 5 cologne.
Today, we find six wooden tables with checkered tablecloths on the terrace of the old gazebo, where my open kitchen is installed in front of a long island counter with flowerpots the smell of peppermint, a generous lemon-green bok choy, and an Asian turnip that I prepare sautéed in the wok in sesame oil, whiskey, brown sugar, oyster sauce, and sesame seeds… all in the shade of a giant, grateful bougainvillea and other age-old leaves cared for with dedication.
In the inside kitchen, also visible to diners and serving six other tables with burgundy tablecloths in the main dining hall under large white arches with terracotta frames and blue beams, accompanied by a beautiful 96 LaSanMarco coffee maker at the very bar that served employees from American Cable, the big shots of the ’60s and ’70s, and young aviators with their hundred-pocket overalls… we find my partner, Claudio, with his elegant Veronese air, preparing with meticulous art unbeatable traditional homemade recipes from the heart of Italy: spaghetti, lasagna, and to-die-for desserts.
More than a partner, he is the perfect companion-friend to take along on this adventure, because he knows everything: from cooking to mechanics, carpentry to wines, motorcycles to fine espresso, besides being a diehard Ferrari and Ducatti fan. We share the same ‘cooking for pleasure’ motto, premises number one, two, and three to make this project work.
That’s the story behind the name Claudio y Alberto Bistró & Coffee.
Front stage, serving friendly (or fussy) clients, we have a beautiful Colombian woman with brown hair, lively eyes, and an eternal smile —Lily Rosas, my life partner—who, with reluctant solidarity has taken on this journey graciously, accompanied by Toty Saadie, Claudio’s wife, who, with a name like a celebrity, bolsters our top-notch crew.
And backstage, we have the great Alex—the stageman, problem-solver, and “sous chef”—an avid bicycle rider and relentless Barcelona fan (unlike my uncle Cipri), without whose collaboration we would not have been able to achieve what we have: our carefree, de-stressed, relaxed… pleasant operation.
Yes, these have been four exciting years doing something that feels not like work, but like pure pleasure. Doing what I love: cooking in the Salinas that I’ve come to love since childhood, that hospitable, welcoming corner of our country: beach, sun, the ocean… but also days to bundle up, read, draw, watch Netflix…
Or write, which has become a pastime rediscovered thanks to the terrible flu that has us all locked up, nailed to our wifi networks, smothered in the news of a-thousand-and-one irrelevant reveries forced by this worldwide pandemic.
Yes, these have been four delicious, rich, delightful years to continue being grateful with everything and everyone, with our customers who leave their dishes clean and go home happy with a memory of flavors that always make them return. With my mother who encourages my culinary passion and whom I don’t get to see as much as I would like. With my children and close friends who visit me or comment on my posts, offering their unequivocal support, and who are the wind that has allowed me to enjoy this good sea…
PH: Jorge Vinueza