A Few Questions with Sal Avila of Prima

Behind the reins of Prima, chef Sal Avila has steered Nashville dining into a delightful spot. Settled nicely into the Gulch, the going-on-one-year-old restaurant has been a bright light in the city's crowded culinary scene. Prima, an impressive take on American fine dining, is a restaurant spiced with Sal's unique international experiences, boasting fantastic wine, cocktail, and -- if we may say so ourselves -- coffee programs. In fact, Prima's commitment to the restaurant coffee experience is nearly unparalleled in the city. It might just be that we got Sal hooked during his morning trips into CREMA. Sal answered some questions via email -- check 'em out below! (Since we talked, Sal has changed things up -- and the "breakfast of champions" [you'll learn about it in a minute] is no longer on the menu!)

CREMA: There are so many amazing restaurants in Nashville these days. Only a few have invested in their coffee service the way Prima has. Why is coffee so important to you, and to the Prima experience? 

Sal Avila: Coffee is usually that last thing that a guest will have in their dining experience. If they get coffee here at Prima, it will be good. In my experience, the espresso machine is usually located behind the bar or in a server station. You have several people pulling shots and steaming milk, with every shot being different and every steamed milk drink being a different texture. I put the espresso machine in the kitchen so that I knew there would be one person making these drinks. In the end you have a much more consistent product. And when you represent someone's product, you have to uphold their standards. We treat the coffee the same way we treat local produce and proteins.

Photo by Justin Chesney

Photo by Justin Chesney

CREMA: What's been the response from customers to your emphasis on coffee?

Sal: The response is exactly what I wanted it to be: people enjoying themselves throughout the experience. We don't push the fact that we use CREMA coffee. We just work as responsibly as possible. We feel that we don't need to tell people about the way we do things. All they need to know is that it is good as hell.

Photo by Justin Chesney

Photo by Justin Chesney

CREMA: Where did the name Prima originate?

Sal: When I was asked to name the restaurant, I wanted it to refer to the local harvest or bounty without sounding like a cheese ball. So I Google Translated the word "bounty" into Spanish and prima was the first word that popped up. Why, I don't know. Google is crazy sometimes. But then I started saying it out loud, "Prima, Prima; welcome to Prima; lets go to Prima tonight; did you make a reservation for Prima yet?" To me it sounds good. It's easy to say. The biggest thing for me is that prima means "female cousin" in Spanish. I'm a firm believer in treating everyone like family.

CREMA: We've heard whispers about a pilgrimage you embarked on a few years ago. Tell us more about that!

Sal: The Camino de Santiago. I did it back in 2012. I walked 1,000 miles in 67 days, from Le Puy, France, to the west coast of Spain. I can elaborate more over a cup of coffee sometime if you would like.

CREMA: The coffee ritual is notably important to you in your daily routine. What does your coffee ritual mean to you?

Sal: Yes, it's true: I do start my day at CREMA, six days a week. It's pretty much across the street from my house. It's on my way to work, and it's usually the only interaction I have with the outside world during my work day. It's a part of my "breakfast of champions": in the summer, a 16-oz. iced coffee and a hand-rolled cigarette; and when it's cold, I go with a cappuccino and the same hand-rolled cigarette. 

Sal has quit smoking since we emailed, so the "breakfast of champions" is officially off the menu!  

CREMA: The perfect coffee food pairing: go!

Sal: I think I just answered that, but If I had to choose another food pairing it would have to be fried country ham and black coffee. 

Consider this our nomination to make friend country ham and black coffee the new "breakfast of champions."

Photo by Justin Chesney

Photo by Justin Chesney

Photo by Justin Chesney

Photo by Justin Chesney