STORY BY ANNA ZAVELL
He moved to America from Ecuador in 1995 and knew he wanted to do one of two things, become a police officer or run his own restaurant.
Cesar Miranda learned to cook at a young age and upon moving to Des Moines began climbing the ladder of the restaurant business, starting out washing dishes.
“I figured why not give it a shot. I started this at such a young age. I only had two choices and I picked what I had been doing the longest,” Miranda said.
Miranda may have started at the bottom, but did what he needed to get to where he is today.
He started with salads, a dish he said almost everyone starts off doing, then elevated to holding other jobs such as kitchen manager and chef.
As a child, Miranda explained that he knew how to fry a couple of things, but most of his knowledge and learning took place after leaving Ecuador. It seemed Miranda was always working for someone else, whether it be as a cook or a kitchen manager, for a little more than 15 years.
All of this changed in 2011 when Miranda decided to open Mi Patria in West Des Moines.
Tucked into a strip mall next to a Gordman’s and a Michaels, Mi Patria offers a pleasant atmosphere inside.
Immediately, the smell of food greets customers. The walls are lined with paintings and miniature traditional Ecuadorian outfits.
“This is the only Ecuadorian restaurant in Iowa,” Miranda said. “I was always working for someone else and it made me want to have my own. I decided to try it, and, well, here we are.”
Customers come from all over the Midwest to get a taste of Mi Patria’s rich flavored plates such as fried plantains or the many pork dishes featured on the menu.
Customers can be guaranteed a taste of traditional Ecuadorian cuisine mixed with homemade dishes that Miranda and his family make themselves for a meal.
“Some people make a trip from Kansas City, Minneapolis and Illinois just to have a meal here,” Miranda said. “It feels good when people make trips just for the food.”
Of course, dishes are put together slightly differently if they were to be served in a restaurant as opposed to at home. However the recipes stay the same.
“We serve traditional Ecuadorian food, but the majority of the recipes are the same recipes we use at home. If you were to visit Ecuador, you would find the same food as we serve here,” Miranda said.
Miranda imports all of his ingredients from Ecuador, as the ingredients here in America just don’t compare or are too expensive to purchase. Even being located in what seems to be the corn capital of the world, Miranda imports Ecuadorian corn, which is larger and white, instead of our traditional yellow sweet corn. Miranda says the corn has less taste than a potato.
“You have to import the ingredients,” Miranda said. “To make it traditional you have to have the same ingredients. By sending my own food I am able to save some money that I wouldn’t have been able to buying it here. We have to go out to Chicago about five or six times a year to pick up our ingredients and bring them back to the restaurant.”
Five to six times a year to pick up goods for a restaurant may seem like not enough ingredients for a restaurant that has a crowd of regulars and constant newcomers, but the food is stored in the restaurant and is kept fresh, as well as sold quickly.
When asked what his favorite dish is, Miranda couldn’t choose.
“We like to cook,” Miranda said. “So, whatever you order, we would be happy to make it. I like every single dish here because like I said everything we make here we make at home. Whatever customers order, we are happy to make it.”
Miranda has only one day a week off-the rest are dedicated to making sure everything runs smoothly at Mi Patria both day and night. He is the main cook in the kitchen who closes orders and makes sure the food goes out the way it is supposed to look and taste.
Mi Patria has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and and Guy Fieri said “Latin cuisine is perhaps some of the best in the world and while quite popular in the south, it’s great to see it spread with popularity to the north as well.”
Customers can be sure the food being served is nothing short of delicious. With Miranda in the kitchen, he not only cooks, but also makes sure dishes are served looking and tasting how they are supposed to.