Chef Ana Ortiz cultivates conversation and connection.
She wants everyone to leave her meals not just full but maybe with new friends. That’s the ethos behind her catering company, Day Into Night.
Ortiz launched the business two years ago, after spending time as a pastry chef in restaurant kitchens, which had become exhausting. “I didn’t want to work that hard anymore for other people,” she says, and a 40th birthday dinner party she threw for herself provided a template for her future.
“It was really magical—not everybody knew each other, yet by the end of the night, everyone had switched seats and were talking to each other,” she says. “That’s the part I remembered the most,” and it’s an aspect of hospitality that’s impossible to re-create in a restaurant setting.
For clients, she cooks up menus tailored to birthdays, weddings and all manner of celebrations, serving everything from wine-braised beef cheeks to tortilla española to coconut-turmeric panna cotta. Rarely does she pull ingredients or dishes from the cuisine of Puerto Rico, where she grew up, but on March 7, at Greenpoint’s Archestratus, she will be serving bollitos de platano, gandules and casabe, guayaba con queso and more.
“I’ve always wanted to do a dinner here,” she tells me, at one of the café tables. “It’s so close to my house, but I also think it’s such a magical space.” The idea to use Puerto Rican flavors in a pop-up came after spending time in the James Beard House kitchen last November, cooking a Navidad Borinqueña dinner with chefs from the island. I helped put the event together and got to see her turn a traditionally rustic dessert called cazuela, famously made at El Burén de Lula, a restaurant in Loiza, into a luscious soufflé. “I love pools of sauce, and love the idea of anglaise being thought of as a pool of melted ice cream,” she says. “It’s perfect with rum and all those flavors.”
The warmth and smokiness, closing out a rich meal heavy on acid and seafood, reminded her of the possibilities of the flavors of the island.
“I was super inspired. There are all these great ingredients that I grew up eating,” she says, “and there are new ways of doing it.” While Ortiz loves the flavors of the cuisine, the traditional style of cooking tends to be on the heavier side. But, she realized, it doesn’t have to be that way. The plantains and bacalao and chayote could be reimagined in her own style, which focuses on more delicate flavors. “In many ways, the menu is an expression of how you can use plantains in every way possible,” she laughs, “because they’re going to be boiled and fried and mashed.”
Aside from the (glorious) excess of plantain, Ortiz will be making a traditional white cheese to serve with guava curd. “I’m always excited about guava,” she says. And, of course, the dessert will be a stunner: pineapple upside-down cake with pink peppercorns and vanilla anglaise.
As winter wanes, not just the tropical flavors but the relaxed energy should provide respite. “I always say, ‘Eat like you do when you’re on vacation,’” she says, of what to expect at her meals, where you might be encouraged to remove your shoes. “A little bit devil-may-care. No worries.”