Rob and Amie Weaver received one of life’s greatest gifts in December: the birth of their first child, James. That paramount experience at Maple Grove Hospital, Rob says, was enhanced as they ate “probably the best meal ever at a hospital.”
When little James was just a glint in their eyes, the Weavers lived as a young couple in Northeast Minneapolis in 2008 and became loyal customers of Rolando Diaz, the then executive chef of The Front Café.
The New York-born Costa Rican living in Maple Grove had concocted a Latin-influenced hamburger that, Rob says, “changed our dining lives.”
“We had stopped in, unassuming,” Rob says, “but it wasn’t your typical bar food. What came out was the creation of a master.”
Diaz, however, gave it up about two years ago. He quit the 14-hour days in the restaurant to work at the local hospital, which would allow him time with his young family of four. “I think that family is more important because it gives you more of a drive to keep going,” Diaz said.
But Diaz’s move came as a surprise to the Weavers. “We were distraught,” Rob says.
Diaz, 29, built his culinary reputation with the first-hand shelling of shrimp, squeezing of limes and cooking of plenty of rice at his family’s restaurants in Costa Rica. As he grew, he worked at resorts on the Caribbean coast, cooking a seafood ceviche, coconut chicken and plantains—all with his fair share of spices.
Through a Maple Grove man traveling in Costa Rica, the 21-year-old Diaz was convinced to move back to the U.S. With only broken English, Diaz settled in Maple Grove and cooked at Old Country Buffet.
In 2008, Diaz applied to be the executive chef at The Front Café. But first, he had to compete against 10 other chefs in a format befitting a reality TV cooking show.
He submitted menu items to the owner, and he came in for an “audition.” Diaz created a series of dishes, the last of which being a makeshift burger hadn’t planned. His concoction contained curry sauce, pineapple, bacon and chipotle peppers. “I was just whipping stuff up,” Diaz remembers.
The owner took one bite, and Diaz was hired.
“You have a significant flavor in your dishes,” Diaz recalls the owner saying.
That special flavor had captivated the Weavers for years. Recently, Rob sent Diaz a Facebook friend request. They then exchanged happenings. Diaz was working at the hospital; the Weavers were coming to the hospital for the birth.
Rob floated the idea of Diaz cooking them a Front Burger. “I was just kidding … kind of … sort of,” Rob says.
Diaz gladly filled the special request for his old regulars. “It’s awesome and makes you feel great when people remember a dish,” Diaz says.
Diaz typically makes more traditional dishes at the hospital, but he will inject his Latin flavors for special catering or during the chef’s special.
Amy Halverson, the hospital’s food service manager, says his passion and creativity in the kitchen helped get him the job. “I think a lot of his entrees have a deep flavor profile,” she says, “because he uses a lot of spices.”