This Hispanic Heritage Month, we decided to ask cooks who inspire us which is their ingrediente secreto (secret ingredient). How a traditional dish can take us to a place, make us feel nostalgic, happy, or daring, and, at the same time, hold the history and the memory of the chef itself.
Many say (and we include ourselves among them) that making food is one way more to make art. The combination of flavors, colors, and experiences that different recipes provide are not just to nourish one’s body, but also one’s soul.
Jeremie Serrano is a multidisciplinary artist. The keyword is: multidisciplinary. Up to date, you can find him working at his art studio where he illustrates and designs goods for his independently run e-commerce store, focusing on his freelance work, and also creating vibrant recipes to share on his social media pages.
This Latin artist has been creating recipes and sharing them online since 2017 under the brand name “La Comida de Jeremie,” a virtual space in which the flavors of the diverse communities he is part coexist with a touch of witchy whimsical designs and a bit of sazón and flavor. Since then, Jeremie has worked with notable clients such as Pixar to Fight for $15 to Follow Your Heart and has had his work shown on platforms such as CNN and Hyperallergic, among others.
“To me, being Latinx in the US is being authentically me and proud of my culture, and never letting anyone tell me otherwise. I think many like to use the phrase that the US is a melting pot of different cultures, but that isn’t really represented in every aspect of what the US stands for. Which is why I think it’s important for us Latinx folks to show up in every space – whether we’re welcomed or not – because we belong and this is our US as much as it is anyone else’s.”
Home Is Where The Heart Is: From Puerto Rico to the United States
It is known that over the years, many Latinxs have turned the US from a foreign country into a land they now can call home. The journey is as challenging as invigorating, and most of the time the quote “home is where the heart is” turns out to be true.
Although part of Jeremie’s family is based in the US, memories play a tricky game when it comes to one’s senses. In other words, no matter where you are, sometimes a flavor, an aroma, or the experience itself can make you travel around the world or… back to the place you also call home. (Because yes, there are many places a person can call home!).
“My favorite memory of making food was in the early 2000’s. My aunt in Florida has a house with a pool and with the warmer temperature, it makes us feel like we’re back in Puerto Rico when we’re not able to make it for the holidays. You smell the pernil roasting over the open fire, making arroz con gandules with my grandma, my mom making coquito – and everyone else indulging in the sobremesas and aperetivos that the family put together. Salsa, merengue, and those popular parranda songs we all know and love as Boricuas.”
Making food for these kinds of occasions described by Jeremie is part of building those memories. It is accustomed that recipes are passed down generations so once you gather with your loved ones those that are no longer with us can still be present in a way. After all, part of celebrating our roots and culture is celebrating where we come from as well.
In Jeremie’s case, there’s a recipe that has held on to his memory, but as he admits, to most Puerto Ricans as well.
“If you ask any Puerto Rican they’ll probably mention a similar recipe, and of course, someone in their family makes it best – abuelita, mami, titi! And in my family, I think the best recipe that has been passed down to me is Arroz con Gandules. It’s easy and simple, yet when you taste that yellow rice you’d think it would have taken 1,000 steps to make from how delicious it is.”
As mentioned before, home is where the heart is. But, sometimes, those heartbeats can be challenged but the surroundings or the culture you are learning to be part of as well.
According to Jeremie, “The Latinx community here (in the US) represents the diaspora. Our ancestors and ourselves come from miles away, and though our dialects or accents might be different from one another’s, we all have similar stories, recipes, music, and so much more. It’s exciting to see the differences but also the similarities in what each of our Latin communities represents.
But I also think that there’s a lack of representation when it comes to government and/or how we as a community are accounted for. Whether that be language access in government buildings or online documents, how information is dispersed to our communities, and the resources our people are able to access. I see the disparities. And I do want to acknowledge the folks out there fighting for us and making sure our voices are heard! But there is so much more work to be done to ensure we our people are treated as equals in the US.”
In every part of the world, the topic of immigration is a challenge: difficult to address, but also an invitation for locals to open their minds and eyes towards communities and individuals that do not only bring their customs and cultures with them but also opportunities for everyone.
Every day is an opportunity to learn more about where we come from and where the people that surround us come from as well. Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month is a beautiful reminder that roots and traditions, need to be celebrated and spread so more people around us can learn more about food, flavors, and dances, but also about who we are as Latinxs.
After all this analysis you might be wondering “What about Jeremie’s ingrediente secreto?”. We bet the art he makes from food and other mediums might be part of his successful recipe as a professional chef, but what he confessed to us is…
“Sofrito! It doesn’t matter if it’s a traditional Puerto Rican dish or if I’m making recipes from other cultures. Sofrito is at the base of every dish I create. It’s a mixture of cilantro, recao (also known as culantro), lots of garlic, onion, red and green bell peppers, and aji dulce if you can get your hands on it. The true ingredient that makes my dishes that much better!”.