Just Food Conference Brings Latinos to the Table on Food Activism

Yadira Garcia of Happy Healthy Latina conducting a cooking workshop in El Barrio, NYC in 2016 (Photo/Walter Roeder)

Yadira Garcia’s close relationship with food began when she fell down a flight of stairs in her junior year of college, leaving her unable to walk and in enduring pain.

The disability caused sudden spikes in her cholesterol and blood pressure, and she ended up with prescriptions for Oxycontin, Vextra and Lipitor. She said she suddenly had found herself, “a prisoner in her own body,” and at 20, was told this is what her life would be. Then she lost her health insurance.

“When you’re not handed the right road map, you can’t get to your destination,” Garcia said. “So, I went back to my elders. I thought, ‘What did my grandmother eat?’ I went finding these foods. I started to eat well and started to see how my health was improving and changed. I went from a walker to a cane. It was a three to four year process – very incremental. Eventually, I got off my cholesterol medication.”

Garcia told her story to open the 2017 Just Food Conference held this week at Columbia University’s Teacher College in New York City where nearly 800 food workers, farmers, scientists, activists and citizens gathered to collaborate on creating and advocating for an economically equitable, environmentally sustainable and healthy food system for all.

Now 33, Garcia is a food educator, community chef, and has her own blog, Happy. Healthy. Latina., where she posts her latest healthy recipes and answers readers’ questions. You can also check out her latest project there – a new cooking show, called “Healthy Cocina,” which is produced by actress Zoe Saldana, and also features Saldana’s sister Cisely.

Garcia, who was raised in New York City but whose family hails from the Dominican Republic, said our ancestral knowledge is our power. She decided she wanted to give away the knowledge she had, and she also put herself through culinary school – the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York.

“I learned how to activate Latino foods,” she said. “I make medicinal sofrito.”

In addition to hosting cooking workshops with seniors and ex-offenders in the community, teaching them how to use food in a healthy manner, Garcia is also on mission to get nutritional education to youth by spearheading wellness classes in schools.

“I am extremely concerned about H.R. 610 – the (proposed U.S. House) bill that will affect snacks and meals in schools,” said Garcia. “I feel an urgency now to tap the community … We train parents how to make demands. If we don’t know what’s happening, we’re silent. I talk with them to add their voice. We the people are the only ones who can make a change. We the people have to use our voice. Instead of being scared, we can talk … There is power in numbers.”

“I think this is why I was given my ability to walk again, to be able to share my testimony,” she adds.

While eating healthy foods is a challenge for some, for others, it is getting sufficient food at all, along with getting food that is nutritionally beneficial.

JoseChapa

Jose Chapa, farmworkers legislative campaign coordinator at Rural & Migrant Ministry at the 2017 Just Food Conference in NYC. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Jose Chapa, 32, justice for farmworkers legislative campaign coordinator at Rural & Migrant Ministry, said food and restaurant workers are the most food insecure population – many can’t afford to feed themselves, and injury and illness rates at work are also high.

“Part of what I do is try to get the Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act passed,” said Chapa, a panelist at the conference. “In the 1930’s, when the New Deal was passed, farmworkers were excluded from many rights like overtime pay, or a day of rest. The Farmworker Fair Labor Practices Act would enact a 40-hour work week and an option for a day of rest. A lot of the time, the standard of living is so low, there are no sanitary requirements, no protections for farmworkers. Only recently, they were given minimum wage and access to drinking water in the fields.”

Rural & Migrant Ministry, a non-profit located in Poughkeepsie, New York, aims to change unjust working conditions for farmworkers, and will be a part of the Cesar Chavez Rally for New York State Farmworker Rights on March 30.

Chapa, born in China, Nuevo León, Mexico, feels close to this cause, because he grew up as a migrant farmworker. He migrated with his family to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas when he was 4.

“My parents wanted a better education and future for me and my brother,” said Chapa, who came to New York three years ago to fight for farmworker rights, while the rest of his family is still in Texas. “Every summer, my family would go to Iowa and Minnesota to work the fields. My family worked picking corn and cotton every summer from when I was 4.”

He said he personally worked in the fields from age 15 through 16.

“I remember conversations of my dad talking to farmers in broken English. I heard racial epithets. That impacted me,” said Chapa. “The first time I went out in the fields to work, I had a heat stroke because it was so hot. Those two things drew me to this work.”

In addition to educating the community about the bill he wishes to see passed, he also reaches out to similar organizations to collaborate. He said he tries to create a sense of community where farmworkers can gather and talk about issues they are facing – especially with the increasing fear of immigration enforcement.

“I’ve heard of more activity of border control by Buffalo,” said Chapa. “We refer folks who are fearful to other organizations depending where they are in the state. What would help a lot is the passage of this bill. We have very good speakers on our side, and we are hoping these voices can give farmworkers a voice.”

RicardoSalvador

Ricardo Salvador uses chart to show how poverty intersects with race and ethnicity during keynote address at “The Future of Food Justice” session on March 13. (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Dr. Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Washington, D.C., delivered the conference’s final keynote address, “The Future of Food Justice.”

“The footprint of inequity is something I want to talk about,” said Salvador, 59. “Without a just food system, we can’t have a just nation.”

He explains that a just food system is one that doesn’t exploit food workers, and the current model is based on production for as much profit as possible. The fundamental purpose of the food system, he said, should not be one which enables us to solely survive, but one which also nourishes us.

“Profits should not the primary goal, but healthy people and animals,” said Salvador. “But this is not feasible because most people are not informed. We need to point people to places where it’s working – that is concrete and real.”

One of the ways the Union of Concerned Scientists has taken action to coordinate and align leadership is by forming The HEAL Food Alliance. The national organization was founded in 2015 to bring together farmers, food service laborers, scientists, policy experts, and community activists in order to achieve effective policy change in our nation’s food system. It does this by empowering local leadership, training future politicians in policy issues and working against monopoly power structures.

This topic is close to Salvador’s heart, because like Chapa, he comes from a Mexican farm-working family. After the 1942 agreement between the U.S. and Mexico, also called the Bracero Program, his uncle and hundreds of thousands of mostly indigenous people migrated to join the agricultural labor force in various parts of the U.S.

“This set the pattern for decades of subsequent migration and exploitation,” Salvador writes in his blog.

“I have family farming in California and in Mexico, and they were all exploited,” he said. “I felt they were discriminated against – no matter how hard they worked. That’s why my work has turned into social justice work.”

Salvador’s research suggests that the U.S. has one of the highest rates of income inequity in the world. Other studies also have documented this.

“This is what needs to be undone…You deprive people of their land, and you will create impoverished people,” said Salvador, noting the income equity found in some Native American reservations. “There is an exploitation of human beings for the creation of wealth.”

Salvador continues to say, if we want a society where we all thrive, we need to invest in each other.

“If we are all one race, we really need to believe it,” he said. “All of us here now are making the future. We need to be careful not to commit the same errors … You have to believe things will get better, because you fight for them. I came from people who took big risks.”

Originally published on NBCNews.com.

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Holiday Recipes We Love: Peruvian Pork

Surfish's "Peruvian Pork" (Photo/Chef Miguel Aguilar)

Surfish’s “Peruvian Pork” (Photo/Chef Miguel Aguilar)

A good roasted pork can find its way onto just about every Latin American Christmas dinner table. There’s the Cuban lechón, a whole pig marinated in citrus and garlic and cooked low-and-slow in a caja china. The Puerto Rican pernil, a juicy shoulder cut rubbed with garlic and herbs and oven roasted. And then there’s Peruvian pork, flavored with aji panca, a unique chile virtually unknown outside of the Andean region. Smokey, sweet and fruity all at once, the heat from this chile is precisely what makes Peruvian pork—well—Peruvian. We asked 43-year-old Lima-born Chef Miguel Aguilar, winner of the Food Network’s “Chopped” competition last summer and owner of Brooklyn’s Surfish restaurant, to share his recipe. Aside from the aji panca, Aguilar also uses soy sauce. “Peruvian food has a lot of fusion,” he says. “It has no barriers.”

Aguilar serves his Peruvian pork, pictured above, on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes and tops it with fresh salsa.

Peruvian Pork

10-pound pork shoulder
15 whole cloves of fresh garlic
1 big red onion cut in large pieces
15 ounces aji panca paste
2 quarts chicken stock
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup of soy sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place the pork skin side up in a large roasting pan, and pour the chicken stock over it.

3. In a blender, puree the garlic, onion, aji panca paste and soy sauce for about a minute, or until pasty. Add a little of the chicken stock to the puree to make it pourable, and pour over the pork.

4. Add the cinnamon sticks to the liquid and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and cook in the oven for 3 1/2 hours. No basting is needed. Remove from oven when internal temperature reaches 165, and allow to rest for 15 minutes before cutting.

5. To serve, place individual slices of pork on a bed of sweet potato puree, drizzle with the pork juices from the roasting pan, and garnish with freshly made salsa.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Cocktail: Pisco for the holidays

WhiteChristmas

Move over tequila and rum, pisco has arrived in the U.S., and it looks like it is here to stay. Learn how to make this special drink for the holidays.

Pisco, which means “little bird” in the Quechua language, is a clear distilled liquor made from grapes and named after the town of Pisco, located on the coast of Peru.

This heavenly drink is the fastest-growing spirit in the U.S. In 2010, pisco imports and sales grew an astounding 101 percent, according to the Comisión Nacional del Pisco in Peru. Within the past three years, more than a dozen different brands of Peruvian pisco have become available in the U.S.

This year, award-winning and world-respected pisco judge, television personality, chef and restaurateur, Johnny Schuler has begun to distribute his record breaking medal-winning brand, Pisco Portón, to 27 markets in the U.S., including Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Schuler describes good pisco as having a flavor more complex than a vodka and more subtle than a tequila.

“It is excellent for creating defining cocktails, as well as for savoring neat or as an apertif,” he says.

For Schuler, everything is about having a fully enjoyable experience. And as he wanted NBC Latino readers to have an unforgettable and beautiful pisco drink for the holidays, he excitedly invented a holiday cocktail just for us while visiting Nuela in New York City. He recommends drinking it while listening to Bing Crosby or Michael Bublé, and preferably while snowing outside.

Enjoy!

White Christmas

1.5 oz. Godiva chocolate liqueor
1.5. oz. Pisco Portón
1 oz. heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1 muddled Brazil nut
cinnamon

Shake chocolate liqueor, pisco and heavy cream in a shaker and pour in a martini glass. In a separate shaker, shake sugar, .5 oz. of heavy cream and Brazil nut. When this mixture gets heavy, pour on a spoon to create a layer on top. Garnish with cinnamon.

Originally published on NBCLatino.com.

Peruvian chef has a full plate at new La Mar

Victoriano López, executive chef of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Victoriano López, executive chef of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (Photo/Kristina Puga)

“Don’t use those plates,” says Victoriano López, the executive chef of the recently opened La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, to one of his 20 line chefs, as he calmly reminds his new international team that they have new white plates from France and Germany.

“This is one of the details that differentiates us from La Mar in Lima,” the small-framed López says of the china.

Fans of Peruvian food have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Gastón Acurio restaurant in the city, so their hope is that not much else is different from the acclaimed original.

New York‘s La Mar opened two weeks ago in the high-ceilinged former home of Tabla at 11 Madison Ave.

Originally from the Ancash region of Peru, López says that he became aware of Acurio almost two decades ago while watching one of the first of his many TV cooking programs.

After being mesmerized by the variety of plates and ingredients and trying to learn the innovative Peruvian recipes he saw Acurio and his wife, Astrid, create on the tube, he went to the couple’s flagship restaurant in Lima, Astrid y Gastón, to meet his hero.

“He asked me how do you know me?” recalls López in his native Spanish. “He gave me a job as his assistant one week later. He has helped me so much – not only in learning about the kitchen, but like a father, because my parents didn’t have the economic means to help me. I am so grateful to him.”

Now López, 40, who never had formal culinary school training has been trusted with leading the kitchen at Acurio’s 29th restaurant worldwide – his first on the U.S. East Coast.

“The advice I can give Victoriano is to be himself,” Acurio said via e-mail of the chef he’s worked with for 17 years. “He has a big heart, talent, ability and overflows with modesty.”

López had to leave his family in Peru while their visas are processed, is living outside of his homeland for the first time and is working from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. – but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“We spend about 18 hours together every day,” laughs Luis Jaramillo, his Ecuadoran sous-chef, who was previously at One If by Land, Two If by Sea in the West Village. “I was always inspired by Gastón … but now I am inspired by Victoriano.”

López says he doesn’t have a favorite dish on the La Mar menu, where prices range from $12 to $39 for appetizers and entrées.

But eight of La Mar’s famous ceviches are on the menu, including Elegance, a lime-drenched and slightly spicy warm-water fluke with red onions, Peruvian corn and little yam balls, and Lopez’s specialty, Maine lobster grilled over corn husks and drowned in a tangy ceviche sauce.

While López waits for his wife and three school-age kids to join him in New York, he also dreams about opening his own restaurant one day.

“I teach the philosophy of Gastón, passion for the kitchen,” he says. “We have no secrets.”

Originally published in the NY Daily News.

Three chefs update Argentine fare at Azul

The new culinary team at Azul: Hernán Simesen (l.), head chef Nicolás López (c.) and Matías Romano

The new culinary team at Azul: Hernán Simesen (l.), head chef Nicolás López (c.) and Matías Romano (Photo/Erika Rojas)

For empanadas, skirt steak and the meat fiesta known as parrillada, there are plenty of options among the many reliable Argentine restaurants in the city.

But as any recent Buenos Aires traveler knows, the culinary offerings from the southern end of the Americas are much broader and diverse.

“I want to explain to Americans that Argentinean cuisine is a lot more than just parrillada and wine,” says Stefano Villa, the owner of Azul, a cozy restaurant with blue-washed brick walls at the corner of Stanton and Suffolk Sts. on the lower East Side.

Azul is marking its 10th anniversary by reinventing its once-traditional Argentine menu, bringing in other staples from the countryside – from wild boar to venison – and cooking them with a contemporary twist.

The revolution started one evening a year ago when a young man with long, dark curly hair and a multitude of questions came to have dinner with his girlfriend.

A few days later, the enigmatic diner, Nicolás López, returned with his résumé in hand. Only 27 and originally from Salta in northwestern Argentina, López already had almost a decade of cooking experience in South America. His last job had been as head chef in the restaurant of the Argentine embassy in CaracasVenezuela.

“I put him in charge very fast,” says Villa. “He does the job New York-style. He gives you no time to think.”

The Italian-born Villa, who also owns Industria Argentina and is a partner in Novecento, two other Argentine eateries, opened Azul in December 2001 after traveling in Argentina and falling in love with the country’s cuisine.

His new chef’s next move was to recruit two more chefs back home with fresh ideas for his revolution: A former cooking school classmate, Hernán Simesen, 27, also from Salta, who worked with chef Fernando Trocca at Sucre – a top-tier restaurant in Buenos Aires – and a friend of a friend, Matías Romano, 28, from Buenos Aires, who was mentored by an Argentinian TV cooking show personality, Juliana López May.

“The concept that the three of us have is to feel pride in Argentina,” says López, who finished putting his team together last month. “We simply work with our ideas mixed with the recipes of our aunts and grandmothers.”

The new chefs bring elements from all different parts of this area. There are red and blue potatoes and quinoa from the Andes and wild boar and venison from Patagonia. There’s also seafood, like sea bass from the Falkland Islands and South American king crab, known as centolla.

Dishes include López’s favorite: braised lamb tongue, rabbit confit served with an apple slaw, venison carpaccio and boar with quince sauce.

The restaurant has not only revamped its menu and website, but has been airing the Copa America soccer games and is participating in NYC Restaurant Week, both going on through July 24.

Despite all the changes, Villa says plenty of traditional beef remains on the menu, along with a a wide variety of Argentine wines.

“We are only adding recipes,” he explains.

Originally published in the NY Daily News.

Andres Carne de Tres Brings Colombia to Queens

Parrillada from Andres Carne de Tres (Photo/Kristina Puga)

Tejarrilla Andres from Colombia restaurant Andres Carne de Tres (Photo/Kristina Puga)

With a location in Chia, and one in Bogota, Andres Carne de Res is one of the hottest spots in Colombia, because you can get there for a late lunch and stay all night for dancing, drinking and eating. It’s like a fun house for adults. Now you can partake in the same Colombian-style party, just a short car ride away, in the Andres Carne de Tres that opened just two months ago in Woodside.

Just like the restaurants in Colombia, the Queens version of Andres Carne de Tres offers music on Friday and Saturday nights – a live band, and then a DJ starting at midnight – so you can have dinner with your family and friends, and then dance until 4am. The restaurant looks like a spacious wooden cabin with a tropical feel, transporting you to another place that is not New York – something like a Latin Key West.

The friendly bartender mixes a variety of perfect for summer tropical-tasting libations, including frozen margaritas, mojitos, and the sometimes hard-to-find Brazilian caipirinha. The house drink is the coconuty Andres Hawaian. These drinks are not only refreshingly tasty, and keep you wanting more, but they are also topped with oranges or other fresh fruits. The prices for all mixed drinks range from $8 to $10.

The menu offers generous-portioned appetizers and salads ranging in price from $7 to $9 such as, guacamole with fried green plantains and camarones al ajillo (shrimp in creamy garlic sauce). Entrees like skirt steak marinated in the house special beer dressing, and T-Bone steak marinated in becerrito sauce, range in price from $15 to $25, and are served with two sides.

It is fun to share the giant-sized specials like Tejarrilla Andres (steak, chicken, pork ribs, chorizo, black sausage, fried green plantains, and baby yellow potatoes), and Paella Marinera (for two).

A first-time customer said he wanted to spend the whole summer here, because the restaurant’s large and welcoming porch reminded him of his home country, Colombia, even though it only overlooks the free parking lot of the restaurant.

This is a very convenient for those with a car, but beware if you are taking the train, as it’s a 15-minute walk from the 61st St. stop off the 7 train.

Take advantage of the free margaritas and $10 pitchers of beer every Friday from 11pm – midnight through July 31st.

Andres Carne de Tres is located at 51-05 58th St. Woodside, and is open daily, 11am – 11pm. It stays open till 4am on Friday and Saturday nights for dancing to Latin favorites such as, salsa, reggaeton, bachata, cumbia, rock, and more.

Originally published on Examiner.com.