Chef Idian León’s story is one of perseverance. A graduate of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu academy, she has been in the private restaurant business in Cuba for almost two decades, offering her own personal style of gastronomy, without labels. For many she is the other face of the Cuban restaurant business, with her daring, extreme imagination, intensity and elegance, both in the kitchen and in the dining room of Nao, her restaurant.
She admits to having found in cooking the right setting to give free rein to the artistic creativity she’s always wanted to cultivate. Around one of the tables at this pretty locale, located at No. 1 Obispo street, where she is the soul and motor force, we had a conversation with this chef.
She says that her thing is fusion, innovation and bringing the influences of universal cuisine to her kitchen. “I also try to bring to my creations the smells and flavors of my childhood, in a culinary offer that is multicultural, voyaging and experimental, on the basis of stylized Cuban cuisine and an attempt to search and find points of unity between distant cultures and diverse eras,” she tells OnCuba.
Idian is always thinking about new adventures, and two of the next are opening a new restaurant and finishing a Cuban cookbook in she is writing in collaboration with several colleagues.
Bittersweet is her favorite fusion of flavors, and she demonstrates that with her creations. She has been traveling frequently to the United States for almost 20 years, and aspires for her restaurant to function like a bridge between the two shores, especially because she is constantly nourishing her place with the current tendencies in that neighboring country. Everything from her restaurant’s esthetic conception to its logo were designed by her and her husband. Nao means ship in Catalonian, and it is moreover the prefix of the name of her eldest daughter, Naomi. This warm, intimate and sophisticated establishment has been located in a super-strategic enclave for three years, offering a service where we can find interesting little “butterflies” of suckling pig with guava-and-white-cheese-sauce dressing; black bean hummus with plantain chips, and an exotic octopus that is served in an immense conch, like an offering to Neptune himself.
What’s your secret and what’s your advice to other women who want to venture into this world?
The key is daily work, perseverance and experimentation. Not to give up, and to pursue your dreams. Surely, the real secret is to always contemplate and consider that cooking is an art for eating.