The art of food: Pearl Island’s Javier Figueroa-Ray on cooking and creativity

Photo: Amy Jackson Photo: Amy Jackson

Writer, playwright, counselor—chef Javier Figueroa-Ray has worn many hats. But, to hear him tell it, cooking and poetry aren’t that different.

“When I moved to the mainland, my writing muse stopped and I began cooking,” he says. “I remembered all of my family cooking and began incorporating that into the ingredients available to me in my new surroundings.”

In the San Juan native’s household, his mom cooked “trendy” (as he puts it) food, his grandma went traditional and his uncle would cook outside on wood. Now, he translates those memories to dishes in his kitchen at Pearl Island Catering, a Caribbean-inspired restaurant at the Jefferson School City Center and at the Charlottesville City Market. “I have an idyllic memory when it comes to cooking. I research, learn, execute and repeat,” he says. “I’m always trying to create a story, a narrative to every dish and every meal.”

We asked the chef to tell us a few of his favorite foodie things, from his go-to cocktail to what sandwich he could eat every day.

Favorite bar: Fellini’s #9, although I truly miss the 9 1/2 Speakeasy. [Owner] Jo Dunkle can mix some serious drinks.

Special-occasion drink: Cosmopolitan. A good vodka, Cointreau, 100 percent cranberry juice, a touch of housemade simple syrup and splash of lemon.

Energy source: COFFEE!!!!

Breakfast: Eggs over easy—that’s all that matters!

Chinese restaurant order: Chicken wings, pork ribs and combination fried rice (no shrimp).

Go-to comfort food: Fried plantains and pork

Sandwich: Banh mi at Vu Noodles. Simply the best sandwich in town! If you don’t like it, I’ll pay for it.

Unusual ingredient: Love

Healthy snack: Water!

Unhealthy snack: Tres leches (the one I make has lots and lots of rum).

Condiment: Sazon

Chocolate: Dark

Grocery store cookie: Whole Foods chocolate chip

Dessert: Vanilla flan

Beer: Weihenstephaner hefeweizen

Ice cream flavor: Cookies and cream

Brunch: sweet or savory? Savory always!

Kitchen aroma: Bread

Bodo’s order: Everything bagel with avocado

Salad bar toppings: Nuts

Cut of meat: New York strip steak

Fish: Sea bass

Vegetable: Cucumber

Midnight snack: Frosted Flakes

Always in the home fridge: Eggs, beer, lots of water in glass bottles, an onion, a pepper and a fruit.

Always in the pantry: Rice, pasta and popcorn

Knife: One that does the job.

Appliance: Hyper Steamer—can’t live without it.

Cookbooks: Too many. …I don’t think we have enough time!

Mentors: My grandmother. She cooked every single day and everything was good.

Dream trip: Portugal. Lots of good wine and great food.

Cooking clothes: All black

Cooking music: Salsa when mellow, heavy metal when I need to crank it up.

Food-related tattoos: None! Can’t decide.

First food memory: My mother’s rice with Vienna sausage

Best meal ever: My friend Kevin Barnard’s backyard smoked pork and sausage, beer and kick-ass margaritas.

Lunch: Whatever is available in the kitchen. Lunch is primetime, so I’m always working.

Favorite food city: Charlottesville

Kitchen shoes: Ugly and really comfortable.