I've always been tremendously inspired by Cuban art, music, and food, but it wasn't until my publisher, Burgess Lea Press, pitched the idea of a creating a Cuban cookbook that my travel plans took shape and I first visited the island nation in March of 2016. This trip was followed by two more extended visits to the island to do recipe research. It was the pursuit of food that I designed my itinerary around, but it was the people that truly inspired me during my adventures cooking on island.
During my travels, I kept noticing veracity of the Cuban spirit. Living on an island where there are at times shortages for a number of reasons, people are tremendously resourceful when it comes to putting together a meal. The saying, “Hay que resolver”, is the way people remind themselves and suggest that one must make do, be creative, and reinvent in order to make the best outcome with the resources available. This saying suggests an attitude that is present in most aspects of Cuban life, and the kitchen is no exception: people are always innovating. A plastic water bottle with a hole cut in the top cap makes a great salad dressing dispenser. The leftover trimmings from the chicken will make broth for the next meal. And the fact that milk isn’t available for a recipe doesn’t faze a Cuban; you just use evaporated milk, or alter the recipe. After all, recipes are just suggested guidelines of how to cook, not strict rules.
While there is a tremendous spirit and resolve to make do, there is also an appetite for change. While traveling, I joined Cubans in welcoming President Obama on his historic visit to Cuba. His motorcade passed right through my neighborhood in Central Havana. It was a rainy night, but that didn’t keep people from lining the streets with hopes that they’d catch a glimpse of him leaving one of the local paladars (small privately-run restaurants). The motorcade of about 20 big black SUVs wound through the narrow streets. People cheered, waved and took photos on their cameras.
Afterward, many danced in the streets. They were ecstatic about his visit, and all in all, very hopeful that it would set the course to end the embargo. Cubans have been ready to join their neighbors in the 21st century for a long time, and for many, they are hopeful that they can maintain free healthcare and free education for all, while growing the private sector and increasing trade with other countries, mainly the United States.
In Cuba, there's dichotomy between the past and present, apparent everywhere you go. I passed a donkey tied to an ornamental iron door post next to a teenager glued to his portable video game. He sat in an arched doorway, plaster bits fallen from the building, strewn around his and the donkey’s feet. I witnessed an old woman carrying 4 large baskets of watercress for sale down a cobblestone street, next to a young man selling internet access cards and wearing a AT&T wireless t-shirt. Cuba holds something old, but yearns for something new; you can feel that change is in the air.
To get a taste of what Cuba has to offer, check out the cookbook I wrote and illustrated all about recipes form my travels throughout the island.
It's my best illustrated cookbook yet~ order Comida Cubana here!