Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Taste of Cuba by Valerie Feigen

Valerie Feigen, one of my NYC writing students, has co-authored a cookbook called A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine, Includes 75 Savory Recipes from the Country's Top Chefs.  Valerie is doing a Q&A at the 92nd Street Y with her co-authors Cynthia Carris-Alonso and Jose Luis Alonso on Thursday, April 26 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $29. Here is a link to the event.

 Valerie is a novelist and memoir writer. She is a lawyer by training and a great pleasure to work with. The cookbook is beautifully photographed and fascinating. Last week, I made one of the recipes (arozz con pollo---chicken with rice. page 50) and it was easy and delicious. I asked Valerie to talk about how she came to know her co-authors and develop the recipes for the book.

"Cynthia and I met when we were 5 years old and played together every summer. She was a photo journalist for Newsweek and positioned in Cuba in the 1990s. She met and married and Cuban and continued to photograph the country and its people documenting the culture and politics. She brought me to Cuba March 2013 and I fell in love with the people. I was deeply moved by their ability to create amazing art with almost no resources. There were no casual restaurants. No take out. No food stands. But there were wonderful paladars and restaurants. The pride the chefs took in their food was obvious and the pleasure and joy with which they served each dish was remarkable. I loved eating out and discussing how the chefs were able to access ingredients and how they learned to cook

"In April 2017, Cynthia had compiled over 80 recipes and hundreds of great photos documenting the food and chefs and paladars and she asked me to test a few recipes to make sure they worked.

"What I found was that half were in good shape and half were merely notes in Spanish and in metric measurements. Much of the way they cooked was instinctive and they couldn’t explain the process or amounts.

"I spent 4 months cooking every recipe multiple times and we called Cuba constantly for clarification. My goal was to match the look of my food to the photos of the food and to make sure the recipes made sense and the food tasted good. Cynthia tasted everything and was the final arbiter of whether I had achieved a good facsimile of the dish as made and served in Cuba. At times she declared my rendition better. All of my adjustments were approved by the chefs when Cynthia traveled back to Cuba. Most recipes were not adjusted in quantity for small servings and there were many other complications.

"I relied on my knowledge of ingredients and techniques to mirror their creations and then did my best to write clearly and simply the instructions. In the end, this book accurately reflects the food served by these chefs in their restaurants and paladars."

Note: A paladar is a small, family run restaurant, usually run out of a converted part of a house. 

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