When Formula One rolls into Miami in May, the glitz and glamor of motor racing’s premier competition will get a taste of the richness of South Beach’s Latino culture.
Miami is often described as the “capital of Latin America.” Spanish is widely spoken and over 70% of residents in Miami-Dade county – where the city of Miami is located – see themselves as “Hispanic” or “Latino.”
The person handed the task for bringing the unique flavors of Miami’s rich and diverse Latino heritage to the fifth race of the F1 season is Dayanny De La Cruz, executive chef for Sodexo Live! at the Hard Rock Stadium.
Even at five-foot-two, De La Cruz has a big personality – you need one when you can be leading a team of 2,500 culinary staff, including 250 chefs for major events like the Super Bowl.
The 48-year-old developed her love for the culinary arts standing on a chair at her grandmother’s house in the Dominican Republic.
“As a Latina, everything is around the kitchen,” De La Cruz told CNN Sport during the 2022 Miami Open tennis tournament she was hosting at the Hard Rock Stadium. “All our stories start around the kitchen, around the table.
“I remember I wanted to learn how to make rice, so I asked my grandmother, ‘How can I learn?’ I was so little, the stove was up my nose. So she lifted me up and put me on a chair and she taught me how to make rice. And I still cook my rice like that.”
De La Cruz moved to the United States to attend culinary school in the early 2000s. She quickly worked her way up the industry ranks, eventually finding her way to becoming executive chef for Sodexo Live! at the Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
Her path was not always straightforward. In 2011, De La Cruz was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, undergoing surgery and months of chemotherapy. Despite that health scare, the experience strengthened her passion for her profession.
“I’m here for a purpose and … I’m following my purpose. It’s a very humbling experience, but I’m so grateful that I continue walking with a sense of grace in everything that I do in life, so I’m just blessed,” she said.
De La Cruz has very much become the go-to chef for Miami’s mega sporting events.
‘I love colors and flavors’
When the Miami Open moved from Key Biscayne to the Hard Rock Stadium, the Dominican native added the prestigious tennis event to her roster of sporting culinary accolades which include the Kentucky Derby, the US Open and hosting the NBA’s Miami Heat.
In 2020, when Super Bowl LIV came to Miami, De La Cruz became the first woman to host the NFL’s season-ending showdown.
Overseeing thousands of culinary staff, De La Cruz was responsible for feeding both teams’ players and staff, as well as masterminding which foods would be available from concessions, restaurants, clubs, suites and stadium vendors.
De La Cruz’s menu for the Super Bowl incorporated local cuisine as well as dishes inspired by the teams competing – the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs – such as lobster tail and short ribs.
“The Super Bowl was an amazing experience, a very humbling experience,” said De La Cruz. “But it was also empowering for me. We set the standards very high and I’m very proud to say that.
“At the same time, we broke a stigma that a woman has never done a Super Bowl before – that a woman has never walked in those shoes.
“I’m very proud that I opened the door and I’m sure there’s going to be many more like me,” added De La Cruz. “So for me, the Super Bowl was about breaking stigmas and setting the bar very high. So good luck to whoever’s coming!”
In May, F1 returns to Florida for the first time since 1959 and comes to Miami for the first time ever.
The Grand Prix was initially conceived as taking place on a street circuit through downtown Miami, but complications surrounding construction in and around the port area forced the race to be moved to the Hard Rock Stadium, which will sit at the heart of the Miami International Autodrome.
With a planned capacity of 80,000 fans, this will be no small undertaking for De La Cruz and her team.
As with every new sport, the 48-year-old chef is looking to create a unique offering that caters to the distinctive clientele and ambiance of the event.
“When we move from sport to sport, we move our energy. [American] Football is usually ‘one o’clock,’ it’s also a little bit more bulky. When we move to tennis, we’re moving to a softer sport, a little bit more international, so we switch our menus.
“We love to stay local. We love to support all of our farmers. But at the same time, I love colors and flavors and it’s almost like you can taste it when you look at it.
“We love what we do, whatever sport that we do. So let’s see how F1 is going to be.”
As they like to say in Miami, “Dale” – let’s go!