COPA, the nation’s first farm-to-table Cuban restaurant, opens its doors in downtown Durham this Friday, March 23.
Co-owners Roberto Copa Matos and Elizabeth Turnbull, who previously operated the now-closed Old Havana Sandwich Shop in Durham, are back with a new venture that is highly inspired by nineteenth-century Cuban recipes, including many that have been all but lost today, even in Cuba.
The recipes hark back to a time when Cuban was a central trading hub in the Western hemisphere. Turnbull says that was a rich time period to draw from since merchants from nearly every continent shared ingredients and cooking methods to develop a style that was authentically multicultural.
“They’d bring in spices from Turkey with the pork from Cuba or Spain and [create] a whole new type of cuisine,” Turnbull says. “And the other thing that’s exciting is that many of the ingredients that they used are things that we found we could get right here in North Carolina.”
Many of the restaurant’s ingredients come from a sister farm, which Matos and Turnbull own. Sandwiches with locally sourced and pasture-raised pork will be featured on the new menu as well.
Matos came across the long-lost recipes after hearing about a rumored book called The Manual for the Cuban and Spanish Cook, written in the mid-1800s. After digging through historical archives and records, he couldn’t find a complete copy of the text. Turnbull, who also runs a publishing company, helped him piece together a new re-creation of the book.
With inspiration from that text, the couple created a series of events at Old Havana known as “The Lost Dishes of Cuba.” They were so popular that the team began to devise an entire restaurant based on the theme, which eventually culminated in their new venture.
Friday’s soft opening features a limited lunch menu and a full bar with Prohibition-era Cuban cocktails from eleven thirty a.m. to two thirty p.m. Lunch service will continue into next week, but the restaurant will be rolling out more extensive dinner and brunch options over the next several weeks.