Luis Gajer Discusses Lacy Thongs and Three-Foot Steaks at Las Vacas Gordas
|Photo by Riki Altman|
|What other cook do you know with three feet of meat?|
Chef/owner Luis Gajer of Las Vacas Gordas has been rolling up skirt steaks since 1996 when patrons first started rolling into his restaurant. When he and his wife moved from New York to Miami back then, they had no idea they'd go into the business. "I never knew nothing about restaurants," he confesses. "I never had a restaurant before and I never worked in a restaurant before. Everything I knew was about sales." Obviously, this means he never attended culinary school. However he is quick to add, "Anyone from Argentina or Uruguay... knows how to make a salad, barbecue, steak on the grill. We cook for pleasure. It's not a vocation."
When they found the location where they would create their dream eatery on Normandy Drive, Gajer recalls, he and his bride realized prostitutes, drug dealers and gangs were his neighbors. "I didn't care," he said. "People were laughing about me, giving me a couple of months." But now the joke is on them as Las Vacas Gordas has been going strong for nearly 15 years, even during a recent remodel, while restaurants located across the street have changed concepts repeatedly. The restaurant sells upwards of 2,000 pounds of skirt steak alone each week and diners can watch it all being prepared in the expansive open kitchen to the east of the tables and chairs.
New Times: So how did you survive in those early days?
Luis Gajer: For the first year and a half, I was cooking and doing the grill and my wife was in the dining room. I was so scared. I had never even seen a commercial kitchen before.
Aside from the remodel, what's changed about your restaurant since its grand opening?
We've added very little things. The steak you had 15 years ago is exactly the same we are still serving. Fifteen years ago it was $6.99. Now it's $23.99. Exactly the same size. Two or three weeks ago we started serving Kobe. I never thought people were willing to pay $70, $80 for a steak!
We never served anything with bones. Now we've started to serve wagyu tomahawks. I think there are only four ranches in the whole U.S. that can cut this particular steak.