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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Culinary Kings & Queens: Rufino Lopez, Founder and Owner of Solera Restaurant Our Coverage Sponsored by Fresh Origins

Culinary King Rufino Lopez

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Solera continues to be the best Spanish restaurant in Manhattan and Culinary King Rufino Lopez shines in his entrepreneurial endeavor.  Now 23 years young, Solera Restaurant excels in an industry where many come and go annually. It’s a credit to Rufino, as we always say at Whom You Know there is never a great restaurant when there is not an even more fantastic person behind it. Rufino Lopez was first featured as a Mover and Shaker in 2012, and his background growing up on a farm in Spain continues to shape the menu.

“The job is not finished yet! I am still committed to it,” says Rufino. He is never satisfied and continues to strive to produce the best experience for his clients every day. Not everyone in his industry has this compelling desire to please and make clientele happy. Rufino always exceeds expectations: he just had a group of thirty professionals visit Solera for lunch and they are still talking about how the Paella has been the best they’ve had in Manhattan in the decades that they’ve lived here.

Farm-to-table has become a trendy term in today’s era, however we’d have to say that Rufino was on the cutting edge of this from the time he was born. In the home where Rufino grew up in Galicia, Spain, you would find the only store-bought items were: sugar, olive oil, and some spices. His parents grew just about everything else. They grew all their vegetables: over twenty different kinds including four kinds of kale, three kinds of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and more. The Lopez family grew three kinds of grains. They also grew over forty fruits: various kinds of apples, pears, cherries, melons, and multiple types of berries. Animals on the farm included the pigs, the rabbits, and the chicken to eat and the cows to milk them and to make butter and cheese.

The most prominent dishes on the menu at Solera include Paella of course in its various incarnations, Hanger Steak, and Daily Fish Preparations – and the fish is delivered daily by Fishmonger Patricio Osses of Pacific Specialities. Patricio brings small rare fish that have to be eaten on the bone like Butterfish, Daylight Fish and Moonlight Fish, also known as Glass Fish. And of course, since they are interested in the best, they use Fresh Origins Microgreens ordered from Baldor.

Not only does Rufino excel in cuisine, but he is an esteemed authority on wine, and in particular Spanish wine of course. Solera has developed a fraternity named S.B.T.F. (Solera Blind Tasting Fraternity) that began in 2010. To date, they have celebrated fifty dinners and it’s chaired by Angel De la Fuente, a banker and good friend of Rufino’s.  
And yes, women can join because you know Peachy asked that. Many guests of honor are women as well.

Many famous women as well as men dine at Solera and love it. In fact, two days before Muriel Siebert passed away, she was eating lunch at Solera with Rufino. She loved the marinated anchovies, the lobster salad, the croquettes, and the daily fish preparation that Solera excels in. Other famous people that dine at Solera have included executives from major buy and sell side institutions that we need to keep confidential out of the tremendous respect he has for them. Deals happen at Solera! Solera is also populated with politicians, novelists and journalists from Spain, who could be eating anywhere on their trip to New York but they choose their native cuisine since it is that tremendous at Solera.

For the past seven years, once a month at Solera they have a Tertulia. By definition, Tertulia is a Spanish noun for when a group of six to eight people comes to discuss current events. In English and French, it’s usually called a salon. This is totally separate from S.B.T.F.; Tertulia was started by Javier Martinez, a legal advisor to the United Nations. The group is up to forty people now and there’s always a guest of honor that makes a presentation in Spanish. Over seventy Tertulias have occurred, and discussion is encouraged and part of the chemistry of the evening during a three course dinner. 

Peachy Deegan still says the best item at the Solera Farm is Garlic Shrimp. Whom You Know is absolutely thrilled to present Rufino Lopez as a Culinary King. Peachy Deegan interviewed Rufino for Whom You Know, and she sincerely loves it so much her birthday celebration has been at Solera for the past two years. We think Cervantes would write Rufino up as a Culinary King too.

Peachy Deegan: Why should someone visit Solera?
Rufino Lopez: 
To experience top-notch cuisine and wine from Spain. It appeals to people with discriminating taste and those who like good food, locals and tourists alike.

How do you define Tapas?
Tapas is a small portion of food that should be served on a small plate. It should be much smaller than an appetizer and it should not be on a skewer because that would be a pincho.

Does the menu change at Solera and if so how and how often?
We change it twice a year. 80% of the menu is not changed because of customer demand for it. The menu is changed at the beginning of the spring and at the beginning of the fall because of seasonal garden availability.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Professionally, I'm doing what I enjoy the most. Being with customers, employees and friends and having the opportunity to meet new people everyday. I also continue to learn about food and wine. 

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
The best honor is to have repeat customers coming back and telling me what a great experience they have at Solera. I’ve had many honors from Spain where I was selected for showcasing Spanish cuisines and wine for the past twenty years, however what matters to me are the personal relationships with the clientele that I feel privileged to call friends. 

What do you take your sense of identity from?
My parents! My mom is 82 now and not a huge traveler anymore but she has dined at Solera at many times in our history and she was so proud of all the recipes she gave me and how well they were prepared at Solera.

How did you decide to become an American and do you feel you have been living the American Dream? What does the American Dream mean to you?
America is one of a few countries in the world where you can fulfill your dreams; 
I'm fortunate to be living the American Dream everyday. 

What inspires you and why?
Inspiration I get from living: what I do and experiences I have day-to-day. I try to do everything better as time goes on and constantly improve. 

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
I would hire anyone who would help make the Solera experience a better one. 

We have a Peachy Dines Al Fresco column. Please tell us about your rooftop expansion for 2015.
We’re planning to open a rooftop lounge on the fourth floor complete with a terrace. We’ll do jamon iberico, other pork cuts together with cheese and some foods that are served at room temperature.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
Being mistaken for an ugly actor! Just yesterday a group that was here mistook me for someone in Casablanca.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I’d like to have the opportunity to play a soccer game in Bernabeu Stadium for Real Madrid and score no more than three goals! But I’d settle for playing for the NYCFC when my friend David Villa plays for them! Since he’s a forward, maybe he’d send over at least one great assist so I can score.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be?
Definitely Pope Francis

Who would you like to attend future S.B.T.F.’s?
Definitely Robert Parker! He is the pope of wine. 

What would a vegetarian eat at Solera?
Aside from the many salads, we use microgreens, mushrooms, broccoli rabe, grilled vegetables, and offer a phenomenal vegetable paella.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
I try to give back a little every day and there’s so much to give back, I feel like I can always do a little bit more and strive to do so. I think it’s important to help direct needs rather than big organizations with administrative costs.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Champagne Wishes because I like to see the latest wines and other drinks Peachy is recommending.

What do you put in the garlic shrimp that makes yours so much better?
Aside from the garlic and the shrimp and olive oil, lots of love.

What can we look forward to at Solera in the future?
Aside from the lounge and terrace, we’ll be adding some new dishes and wines for the fall and winter seasons.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I have a wonderful wife!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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