Steven Diaz is a New Yorker to the bone, born in Washington Heights to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. His grandmother and father were the gastronomes who set Diaz’s life on a culinary course that eventually took him to the legendary Waldorf Astoria for three years. Afterward, he was chef for the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, and was in its top-floor dining room on 9/11 when the World Trade Center was struck just two blocks away. In September 2010, Diaz became executive chef at the Balcones Del Atlantico, a five-star property in Las Terrenas on the Dominican Republic’s Samana Peninsula. With its sun-and-sand lifestyle, Las Terrenas was worlds away from the glass towers of the Big Apple. He currently works at the Hotel Clarion Santo Domingo on the southern coast, closer to La Romana. Diaz shares his thoughts about returning to his ethnic homeland to ply his chef skills.
What brought you back to the Dominican Republic?
We travelled here frequently when I was a kid, but I first moved to the capital, Santo Domingo, in 2005 to serve as a personal chef and, later, at a couple of restaurants in the city—one called Cane and briefly at another, Mitre.
How’s the food scene in Santo Domingo?
Santo Domingo is definitely more cosmopolitan than Las Terrenas and chock full of good restaurants. The restaurants here do not close until after midnight. You can find anything you might be in the mood for: steak, pastas, salads, sushi, pizza and, of course, seafood.
How does living in the Dominican compare to New York?
It’s so nice to be out of the rat race in New York. For me, it’s a much healthier lifestyle. There’s so much fresh seafood here, and there’s also market gardeners where I can get a range of produce. Las Terranas is a great tourist destination in the country. Learn some Spanish and form friendships with the local “motoristas” [motorcycle taxi drivers] and you will find things off the beaten path that you never would have found on your own.
What’s an iconic Dominican Republic specialty?
Sancocho, for sure. It’s a stew of root vegetables, plantains and meat. If you’re wealthy, you use more meat, but the secret is to add squash to thicken it.
Las Terrenas Eats Paco Cabana, Chez Sandro (809-240-5606)