HEREDIA, COSTA RICA — If you frequent downtown Heredia, you’ve probably already heard of Soda le Cafard, the city’s hottest new restaurant. Located in the central market, the small, booming new soda offers some of the best comida tipica in the Central Valley.
What really makes le Cafard stand out from the rest however, is its owner and head chef, Daniel Valverde Araya, who just so happens to be a human-sized cockroach.
“I grew up in a kitchen,” Valverde told El Peji on his smoke break over a cup of espresso. “As long as I can remember I’ve been really, really into food, you know.’’
From a young age, Daniel says he has enjoyed the melody of sabores that is Costa Rican cuisine.
“I never had the palate of a ‘traditional’ Tico-bicho,’’ he said. “While my friends were happy eating Pinguino crumbs, I was creeping into the kitchen to sample the finer stuff: arroz con pollo, olla de carne, manteca. That’s how I started getting into the art, getting a closer look at the pros in action, you know.’’
Getting closer usually meant putting himself in harm’s way.
“Yeah, I almost got smooshed dozens of times. It drove my parents up the wall,’’ Valverde said. “They always wanted me to be more like my 600 older brothers, you know, to settle down and have a nice wife and a little place under the sidewalk where I could raise my brood. A family roach.’’
But even family pressure couldn’t keep Daniel’s passion from flourishing. He nursed his dream of being a chef for years, often staying up all night to scurry around dark pantries. Then, thanks to an impulse buy on a trip to the capital, he got the kick in the thorax he needed, he said.
“I took la 400 bus into Chepe to see my cousin, got turned around and found myself on Avenida Central,’’ he said. “Long story short, I bought a bootleg copy of Ratatouille from a vendor. Mae, I watched that movie again and again. I thought: if some rat can make soup, wait til they try my pinto.”
Valverde isn’t fooling around in his kitchen. He and his team have worked for years honing his skills in restaurants all over the Valley before opening le Cafard.
“I mean, if you’ve ever eaten in any soda, my friends and I have probably handled your food.’’
Soda-foodies agree that this roach can boast a roast. Yórdan Torres has eaten breakfast and lunch at le Cafard every day since its opening.
“The little guy really knows his way around the cocina,’’ said Torres, squirting an entire bag of natilla on a plátano. “Who cares if he’s a cuca? Actually, these are the only meals I’ve had at the market that didn’t have roach in them.’’
When asked about his success, Valverde said he has a message for roaches everywhere: “When the kitchen light comes on, don’t scurry away. This country is a cockroach’s dream, so make sure not to let any rolled up magazines, shoes, or useless Raid cartridges stand in the way of your true destiny.’’