Our heritage is a big part of who we are.
Within the Latinx community, it is even a bigger part. How and where we grew up -whether in a Latin American country or a Latin household in the US- marked us, made us who we currently are.
We asked 9 food and content Latinx creators what their heritage means when it comes to cooking, and this is what they told us:
Ale Graf, of @piloncilloyvainilla, was born in Mexico and she remembers visiting family all over the country and getting to know both the typical dishes and people from different regions. “At my house we ate Veracruzan, Yucatecan, Sinaloan dishes and more. And just like our paisanos would always receive us arms wide open, inviting us to join their table, it was the same at home, everybody was invited to eat. So when I think about my cultural heritage and how to create dishes that reflect the Mexican essence, I love to picture a table with lots of guests from all around the world. With everyone sitting, eating peacefully and having cheerful and laughter-filled conversations.”
Cooking is a way of reconnecting with the past, our roots, even what was lost but still shaped us. For Marta Darby (@mybigfatcubanfamily), “Being Cuban means holding on to as many of our traditions and flavors as possible because we lost so much when we were forced into exile (…).” That’s why “I tend to start every new dish (as well as the traditional ones) with a Cuban sofrito. Or if it’s a dessert, there’s going to be guava. Those are the flavors that define me.”
Vanessa Mota, a.k.a. @my.dominican.kitchen, explains: “I’m born and raised in the Dominican Republic. As someone who grew up on the island, I hold many memories of my family, friends, and neighbors around the kitchen. I simply love sharing the recipes I grew up eating.
For many, researching and connecting to their roots informs their identity as well their cuisine. Puertorrican chef Reina Gascón-López, from @thesofritoproject, explains that “Staying authentic to myself while exploring cuisines throughout the diaspora is one of the main joys I feel about cooking.” In her case, it’s about putting love and intention behind what she makes, and “I feel that the intention behind our cuisines is what makes them so special to us and our families. They bring back so many memories. And by keeping that in mind, there’s always a good feeling that goes into learning about and recreating meals that I grew up eating.
Jeremie Serrano, a.k.a. @lacomidadejeremie, is straightforward about the meaning of heritage for him: “My cultural heritage plays a huge part in my personal identity. Whether you describe that as Latinx/Latine/Latino or as one of the most Boricua-est guys you could ever meet; one thing you can count on is me being super proud of my heritage and how connected I feel to it. This is why I aim to highlight it in much of my work as much as possible.” For him, “(…) being a part of the Caribbean community and a Boricua that grew up in the North East definitely plays a huge part in deciding factors when creating new dishes or recreated traditional ones. (…) As a vegan chef who wants people to not only try plant-based recipes but wants them to experience these flavors the same way you would if you were eating the traditional non-plant-based dishes – it’s important to me to use as much knowledge as I can from my ancestors.”
And for a lot of them, heritage does not only shape our current community, but also our future generations. Puertorrican Yashira Franco (@wholetogethernow) points out that her “cultural heritage is the catalyst of our family, it’s the foundation of how I raise my children and keep our most treasured traditions alive. The legacy that I inherited is a projection of our daily life, and one that I hope my children value and pass on to the next generation.” And “when it comes to food, my cultural heritage runs deep. It takes over when I’m in the kitchen creating or recreating a recipe. I just can’t help but to incorporate anything familiar to me to make a dish special! It could be recao, plátano, bacalao, guava, pork… you name it!”
For chefs like ecuadorian José Garzón (@holajosegarzon) the debate about what’s considered traditional enough doesn’t have a place in what he considers his heritage: “Every dish on my menu has a story and a place. Most of them are versions of things I either grew up eating on the coast of Ecuador or I ate in my travels as a musician. I had a really hard time and took a lot of criticism when I tried to cook “traditional” Ecuadorian food, even though I was born and raised there. By the time I started cooking here in the US I was heavily influenced by Southern American food, French cuisine and techniques I learned in Culinary School , Asian and Caribbean foods I love to eat.”
In the same note, Bernardette Molina, a.k.a. @herencia_cookbook explains: “I am half Mexican-American, half Salvadoran-American, and 100% Latina! I define my cultural heritage as ‘SalviMex.’ In my cooking, I definitely incorporate SalviMex fusion flavors. For example, I may add curtido to my tacos. Or, I may eat pupusas with salsa verde. All in all, my cooking will always be inspired by my SalviMex upbringing in Los Angeles, and by the señoras who nurtured and nourished me.”
Venezuelan Chef Luis Gerardo Lopez (@chefluisgerardolopez) sums it up clearly: “Mi patrimonio cultural es rico y extenso gracias a la migración que existió en mi país. Gastronómicamente hablando me parece que es rica, ya que haber tenido influencia de Asia o Europa -por ejemplo- nos hizo crecer con esos sabores, los cuales se tornaron muy comunes para nosotros los venezolanos. Por ende toda esa herencia culinaria para los que decidimos dedicarnos a la cocina se nos hace más fácil a la hora de crear un plato, porque venimos con esos sabores en la mente. (My cultural heritage is rich and extensive thanks to the migration that existed in my country. Gastronomically speaking, I think that the heritage is rich, since having had influence from Asia or Europe -for example- made us grow with those flavors, which became very common for us Venezuelans. Therefore, all that culinary heritage for those of us who decide to dedicate ourselves to cooking becomes easier when creating a dish, because we come with those flavors in mind.)” Though he clarifies “En cuanto a la cocina clásica Venezolana trato de respetarla al máximo. (As for classic Venezuelan cuisine, I try to respect it to the maximum.)”
We’d like to thank all the creators that kindly shared their thoughts (some of their opinions have been edited and condensed for length and clarity).
Stay tuned for more on them in the upcoming weeks!