Rolando Casillas of Café L’Europe (431 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota. 388-4415; cafeleurope.net) on St. Armands Circle has spent the past 21 years working up to “executive chef” status, he says. Originally from Mexico, he moved to Sarasota in 1994 to work at the Oaks Club, after years of living and cooking in New York City. He has collaborated with global culinary masters to bring an international flavor to the posh eatery’s current menu.
Tell me about your culinary background.
When I originally came to this country from Mexico, it was supposed to be for a short time to help my brother with his restaurant in New York City. My plans were to continue as an engineer, but within a few months of working alongside my brother, I discovered how much I loved working in the kitchen. Even today, I still use my engineering skills and I love using my hands. I get great satisfaction from creating something that is both delicious and beautiful.
Who inspires your cooking?
The chefs I’ve met over the years. I’ve worked with some amazingly talented international masters from around the world—from France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and of course, New York City.
Have you experimented with different styles to find your specialty area?
When I first started cooking, I was focusing on the classic American cuisines, but with my growth and the opportunity to work with talented international chefs, I became more focused on European dishes. I loved the style, the preparation, the thought that went into each dish and how the flavors complemented each other. European cuisine is grand, elegant and a wonderful experience, and now that I’m working at Café L’Europe, I want our guests to have that same experience and satisfaction.
How do you feel when you see someone enjoying your food?
At the end of the day, when you’re exhausted from working all day in a hot kitchen, the pace is go-go-go and you just want to go home and put your feet up, you walk out on the restaurant floor and see how happy everyone is. There’s nothing like it. Walking from table to table and hearing how much the guests enjoyed their meal, that is the most gratifying experience. It validates my hard work and decision to leave engineering behind. I go home every night to my family knowing I made someone a great meal.
What is your favorite outside-the-kitchen hobby?
On my off days, I’m always on the golf course.
BEEF SHORT RIBS
3 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 3 pieces
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup beef stock
2 carrots, diced
½ stalk celery, diced
2 small onions, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or medium-high heat. Dredge meat with flour, season with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides. Add stock. Cover and bake in the oven for two to three hours, or until meat is very tender and falling off the bone. During the last hour, add the diced onion, celery and carrots, and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Plate with julienned zucchini and squash, and serve with mashed potatoes and gravy from the pan.