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Tale of the Plate: Chef Jonathan Shuler

“In a word,” says Shuler, describing his love for the dish, “It tastes like home — it’s soul food for me.”

Born in New York, Shuler moved to Raleigh at age 8 and relocated to Charlotte about three years ago. Both his parents and grandparents hail from Puerto Rico, and they brought the island’s culinary traditions to their respective kitchens in the Bronx — familial social and cultural hubs Shuler recalls with special warmth.

“Home-cooked dinner was always waiting for my sister and me at my grandmother’s when we returned from school,” Shuler says. “It was important to her that we came straight home, and we were rewarded with every meal. It was definitely love on a plate.”

Pernil with arroz con gandules, while simple and economical, is traditionally a special-occasion dish often served at large family gatherings or holidays, according to Shuler. “Rice and pigeon peas (similar to black-eyed peas) are served at almost every Puerto Rican meal and considered a staple,” he says. “Preparing and cooking roasted pork shoulder, particularly the size to feed a large gathering, is a time-consuming process, days in the making, and is typically reserved for special occasions.”

First, a large pork shoulder (up to 15 pounds) is obtained from a butcher, then marinated using both a special adobo rub (a blend of chilis, peppers, garlic, annatto seed, herbs and spices) and sofrito (a condiment of aromatic vegetables and herbs such as peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes) overnight. Then the pork is roasted low and slow for six to eight hours. The result is skin so crisp and crackly, it’s fought over at the table. The tender, falling-off-the-bone meat is piled high on family plates and served in its roasting juices alongside bright, aromatic rice and pigeon peas spiced with a special sazon, cooked in rendered pork fat, and steamed until light and fluffy. The plate is completed with a leafy green salad and a ripe avocado, which serve as perfect foils alongside the savory main dish.

“I love the simplicity and layered flavors involved in the preparation,” Shuler says. “It’s this technique and approach I look to incorporate in my style of cooking today.”

While you won’t find pernil with arroz con gandules at DTR, Shuler and his team employ similar techniques in a popular item at the Dilworth location: Paycers tamale is a deconstructed dish featuring adobo pulled pork, cotija grits, salsa ranchero, pickled red onions and peppers. At DTR SouthPark, the veal ossobuco ragu uses the low-and-slow roasting technique with veal knuckle to create the tender and flavorful sauce that’s served with house-made linguine.

“This style of cooking makes me happy. And I know it makes others happy as well.” SP

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