If there is a mother of Cuban cuisine, it’s Nitza Villapol. Most every Cuban will tell you that Nitza wrote the book when it comes to Criollo classics. She was famous for hosting a cooking show on Cuban television called Cocina Al Minuto, which first aired in 1951 and lasted for more than 46 years. Many Cubans remember sitting around the television on Sundays, particularly to watch Nitza's cooking show which was broadcast live each week at 11:45 am.
By the 1950s, Nitza was famous not only for her television broadcasts, but for her two books, Cocina Criolla (1954) and Cocina al Minuto (1958). Born in New York City to Cuban immigrant parents, Nitza and her family moved back to Cuba when she was nine to join the socialist/communist revolution after Fidel Castro came to power. She studied nutrition in London during World War II, which gave her a foundation for health-conscious meals.
Nitza continued to be a strong supporter of the Cuban revolution throughout her life. Resources were hard to come by at times, so Nitza devised alternative methods of preparation for countless recipes. With the help of her longtime assistant Margot Bacallao, she shared her keen sense of creativity in the kitchen, on television and in print.
Sometimes her menu plan for the cooking show was not finalized until minutes before her broadcast, due to the limited rations and food shortages at various times throughout the revolution, most notably during the economic crises of the 1990s (known as the “special period”). She famously taught her viewers how to fry an egg without oil, how to make flan with only one egg and consistently educated people about the benefits of including more vegetables, less fat and less meat in their diets.
During my cooking experience in Cuba, I saw many cherished copies of Nitza’s cookbooks; nearly all of my collaborators owned a copy, both of which are now out of print in Cuba. All were tattered, splattered, and falling apart at the binding—evidence of how much their owners valued her cookbooks.
This is an excerpt from my illustrated cookbook, Comida Cubana. Find my storytelling of the culture of Cuba in each of the divider pages. Purchase an autographed copy of the cookbook, here.
Below is some of the art and spreads from the book.
A few more resources on Nitza: