SOBEWFF: Menu Masters, Part 2

Chef Mika Leon dishes on her kitchen inspiration ahead of the upcoming South Beach Wine & Food Festival

Monica “Mika” Leon

Chef/owner, Caja Caliente

SOBEWFF Event: Burger Bash, hosted by Emeril Lagasse; Feb. 23 under the white tents at the festival’s North Venue, beachside at Delano. The coveted “Very Best Burger Award” is up for grabs as more than 30 chefs put their best patties forward at one of the one of the festival’s signature events. Grammy-nominated “smooth country” band Midland also takes the stage.

The Dish: “I’ll be creating my take on the classic Cuban frita for the Burger Bash. I grew up eating fritas with my family, so it’s something very nostalgic for me. Fritas, in my opinion, represent a Cuban take on the burger—and a lot of my cuisine is centered around my Cuban roots. Also, who can go wrong with chorizo and homemade ‘papitas’ in a burger?”

About Monica: The chef/television personality continues to wow customers with her kitchen prowess—and audiences with her natural charm. Leon first garnered attention with Mika Bites, the desserts company she ran out of her mom’s garage after college. After finding success with a food truck that featured her Cuban tacos, she debuted Caja Caliente in 2019—healthy incarnations of classic Cuban food that speak to family recipes and the flavors that inspired her during travels throughout the Mediterranean. In addition, Leon has elevated her own profile with appearances on Food Network shows including Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay.

Fork in the Road: Leon calls a period two years ago critical to her culinary growth because she started experimenting more outside her comfort zone. “I don’t try to force it,” she says. “I just try to draw as much inspiration from my travels and everyday things around me. I think I just care less about being in this box or in this specific category; at the end of the day, I’m doing what makes me happy as a chef and an artist.”

Season’s Greetings: “My favorite dish to prepare right now is anything seasonal,” Leon says. “I love working with local ingredients wherever I can and making dishes on the spot inspired by these finds.”

Did You Know? Leon was born and raised in Miami; her dishes are inspired by her Hispanic roots. Leon’s grandfather was a prominent restaurant owner in Spain.

Stay Tuned: Leon points to a new and exciting concept on which she can elaborate more in the spring of 2023. “One clue,” she says, “is that it will be totally different from the dishes that you normally have seen from me.”

Contact: 808 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; caja-caliente.com

Photography by Eduardo Schneider

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