When most people think of the Midwest, they don’t think of authentic Spanish cuisine. Raúl Cob wants to change that. Cob has only been the head chef at Aventura for three months, and he’s already transformed it into a haven for Spanish tapas and Mediterranean dishes. Cob grew up in Valencia, Spain, and takes his food inspiration from the Spanish ingredients and flavors he grew up loving.
After studying macroeconomics in college, he worked in several restaurants before deciding to buy his own. Cob went on to use social media and his status as one of the top 20 most influential chefs in Spain (no big deal or anything) to land several head chef jobs. He notably worked at the helm of the Kempinski Hotel in Qatar, where he learned to please multiple cultures at once. Five years ago, he came to the US to work at a paella bar in New York City.
“Manhattan was.. First of all was dirty. A dirty place,” said Cob. "The restaurants are very very small. The kitchens are horrible, horrible. It was very difficult to find a peaceful place to work there.”
Welcome to the Midwest
Unhappy in New York, Cob was open to new work possibilities. Enter social media here. If you find yourself wondering if it’s time to set up that LinkedIn Profile, let this be your inspiration. SavCo Hospitality (the company behind your favorite restaurants Sava's and Babo) found the renowned chef online, contacted him through the social network, and asked him to be the head chef at Aventura on Washington Street. Luckily for Ann Arbor residents and its many tourists, he said yes.
Now a Michigan resident, Cob has completely revamped the Aventura menu to embody the Mediterranean Diet and real Spanish flavors. Don’t come to Aventura looking for tacos (he will quickly inform you that those are Mexican, not Spanish).
“[When I came to Aventura] I saw that the kitchen here was not authentic [Spanish] cuisine, so it was a good challenge for me,” said Cob.
Palate, Meet Paella
The upgraded menu features a plethora of Spanish dishes, but Cob feels the paella is the one his customers need to try.
“People need to come to Aventura to meet paella. Paella is the perfect bowl of the mediterranean diet.” Before Cob was chef, he felt Aventura’s paella had room for improvement. The dish is 100% different now, and Cob is confident this is for the better.
As he was working on creating the new menu, one of Cob’s challenges was creating dishes that could deliver bold Spanish flavors that please an American palate. Cob found that it was easy to create traditional tapas dishes, but that medium plates were more difficult to adapt.
“In Spain we love to stew the meats, but if you stew the meats the presentation is not too cool, so I have a lot of problems to find the proper chicken recipe,” said Cob. He ended up cooking the sauces and adding them as a finishing touch.
Why Eat It If You Can't 'Gram It?
Speaking of presentation, Aventura is quickly becoming well known for their Instagram-worthy presentation. As social media continues to become a dominating force in the food industry, these photographable foods and the chef’s online presence are big selling points to customers. With an an impressive 12,000 followers on Twitter, Cob is no stranger to the importance of social media in the restaurant business. He says that he values the social network for its ability to post both opinions and photos, as well as the ability to repost from other users’ accounts. While he is still trying to build his following on Instagram, he is no stranger to taking like-worthy photos. As he scrolls through his profile, Cob explains that he likes to line up his dishes on his office floor to get the perfect back drop.
Another way that Cob builds his online presence is on YouTube. He has uploaded and starred in videos that introduce viewers to foods and restaurants. He posts the videos for both marketing advantages and his own joy for food and cooking.
The Michigan Difference
As he continues his journey at Aventura, Cob appears confident in the restaurant’s potential. He is looking to make Ann Arbor feel like home, and credits the town for its hospitality and peacefulness. Although he has yet to make it to a game, Cob has become a big University of Michigan fan. As he takes off to visit his two children in Spain, he will be bringing with him a suitcase full of Michigan themed souvenirs for his family.
“I [have come] to understand that Ann Arbor is a place that everyone wants to go to… it’s a hospitality place.” Cob values this, because he feels that “if you can do well in hospitality, you’ve got the customers.”
It is clear that Cob is proud of his Spanish roots and excited to bring the bold, authentic flavors to the U.S. When asked to describe Aventura in three words he chose: Spanish food, hospitality, and Michigan pride (technically five words, but we’ll let it slide). Cob hopes the restaurant will earn the status of the best Spanish place in Michigan, and appears confident that he will not only succeed, but surpass that goal. It’s clear that he has big plans—and lots of delicious paella—on the horizon.