I am a foodie at heart – and love good wine too. I’m Cuban by descent, was born in Argentina and brought up in Colombia, and eating plays a big part in the way Latin American people traditionally do business. Whether I’m negotiating a deal or attending art fair events, food figures prominently in the way I operate outside the office.
I’m not much of a breakfast meeting person; it’s over lunch that I get business done. In Miami, our bankers and lawyers love Wolfgang’s for the thick ribeye steaks and simple seafood – plus its clubby feel and well-spaced tables make it ideal for having private conversations. I’ve also had many memorable working meals at Il Gabbiano on Biscayne Bay. We met here recently with some of our partners when we were trying, with difficulty, to close a deal on our latest project in Mexico City. After a leisurely three-hour lunch of Dover sole and fettuccine with garlic – along with a few bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and plenty of tequila – we managed to reach a resolution.
But things don’t always go to plan – no matter how good the food – and one misfire early in my career will always stick with me. We were trying to negotiate a deal to buy a piece of land in Israel at the iconic – now defunct – Rascal House deli with an established Miami developer. On hearing our low-ball offer, he stood up and bellowed, “When they spit in my face, I don’t call it rain!” I never did get a deal done with that group.
Working meals also allow me to successfully combine business with my role as an art collector and lots of creative collaborations have been forged at the dining table. In New York, for example, I recently had an exciting brunch meeting with installation artist Teresita Fernández at The NoMad Hotel, talking about possible future projects.
While lunch is about business, dinners are always a more social affair. It was at Les Bouquinistes – the lively Guy Savoy restaurant in Paris – that I met Philippe Starck and we’ve since worked together many times. We are both crazy and creative – and we go to Miami Heat basketball games when he’s in town. I was also introduced to Piero Lissoni over dinner, this time at the Ciragan Palace in Istanbul; he is now doing several designs for us. In Miami, dinner at José Andrés’ The Bazaar always has a festive atmosphere, with a unique mix of South Floridian, Spanish and Cuban cuisine. I particularly love the grilled octopus – and the Mojitos are excellent. These days I only go to places where I know we’ll be well looked after.
When I’m travelling, however, I love to experiment, especially in Buenos Aires, where we recently completed a real estate project. This deal was literally started over lunch at Rio Alba – eating the world’s best steaks – and completed over dinner the same day at Italian restaurant Piegari. Perhaps it was the delicious mushroom risotto that clinched it.
For special occasions I sometimes host dinners in my own home, including fundraisers for President Obama. I’ve been politically active for a long time and first met the Clintons at a little hole in the wall in Little Rock, Arkansas, before he ran for president. We later cemented our decades-long friendship over penne alla vodka and grilled fish at La Piaggia, a lively Mediterranean spot in South Beach; Julio Iglesias joined us on that particular night. I’ve even shared memorable meals with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach. I had no idea he was ever going to run for president. But then, I’m just not a Republican.