Maricel Presilla is a triple menace: A chef, culinary historian and restaurant proprietor, the Cuban-born meals guru has loads to say about the best way historical past and gastronomy intermingle to outline a tradition and a individuals. On this Voices in Meals story, as instructed to Anna Rahmanan, Presilla sings the praises of American clients (“they’re grateful for good style”), identifies supermarkets as home windows into cultural shifts, and discusses how she believes the culinary scene will reemerge victorious after coronavirus. A little bit of optimism can go a good distance, clearly.
On the affect of Latin delicacies over time in the US
I began engaged on the historical past of meals as a result of I noticed that meals is a window into totally different cultures. Historically, Latin individuals have had a historic affect on some components of the US however I’d say that, later, extra particularly, the Mexican affect has been super. That has been the case not solely within the border states however elsewhere. For instance, New Jersey is now very Latin and there are such a lot of Mexicans, however once I moved right here there have been principally Cubans. There’s additionally an unimaginable connection between the Caribbean and Louisiana. The beans and rice dish that they eat on Mondays? That’s basically Caribbean!
On the methods supermarkets replicate adjustments in tradition
New Jersey is now very Latin American and there are such a lot of Mexicans, however once I first moved right here in 1984, there have been principally Cubans. One thing so simple as going to the grocery store and seeing the adjustments within the sorts of meals offered there reveals historical past at work.
Once I got here to Hudson County, New Jersey, they might solely carry Cuban tubers, yuka, malanga and issues like that. Slowly, I began seeing meals from all around the Americas. I noticed mole, this dried corn from Peru or Ecuador, or these totally different tropical fruits that weren’t utilized in Cuban cooking however had been utilized in Ecuador. I noticed peppers from Peru, just like the yellow aji amarillo. The market is the mirror into the historical past of immigration on this nation.
You see it in drinks additionally. Clearly Havana was the watering gap for People throughout Prohibition and there’s a bar tradition and cocktail tradition in Cuba that was essential and had lots of affect in the US. First it was the daiquiris after which the mojitos. You additionally start to see the high-end wines from Argentina — like Catena or Susana Balbo — in restaurant names. That stuff is concerning the historical past of immigrants and the influence that we’ve had.
On the best restaurant buyer
As somebody who has been feeding People for 20 years — which is how lengthy I’ve had eating places and labored in them — if I had to decide on the right clientele for a restaurant amongst individuals from totally different international locations, I’d decide individuals from the US as a result of I discover that People are grateful. This may appear romantic as a result of People generally are too important they usually don’t consider themselves as being nice or open-minded, however what I’ve seen in 20 years of serving them meals that isn’t their very own is that they’re grateful for good style. They’re grateful for good meals — that’s my expertise as a chef. I by no means needed to make compromises for my clientele. I by no means turned down the warmth of my dish as a result of I assumed my clientele gained’t prefer it. They appreciated the trouble that I put into my meals, appreciated the flavors of my meals they usually saved me going.
By means of evolution, this nation has turn into a rustic of nice diners. With so many eating places from so many alternative international locations, People have gotten used to it. It particularly occurs in giant cities the place the entire world is there. You go to Los Angeles, for instance, and there’s Persian meals in all places, so People have gotten used to totally different international cuisines and actually began appreciating them. Additionally, People are studying cookbooks and are studying and training at residence.
On how COVID-19 will completely change culinary endeavors
The restaurant enterprise is struggling loads in all places, however I’ve to say that this isn’t the primary time in historical past that an amazing disaster is, presumably, adopted by a interval of development. Persons are determined for the expertise that eating places give, so the minute that there’s a vaccine or a measure of safety, individuals are going to return to eating places with a vengeance. I do know that there’s going to be a re-birth and, perhaps, adjustments will happen. Individuals may have discovered classes. I don’t know if a really high-end restaurant should be rethought however I do know that eating places will do effectively and can be full once more. That’s my prediction. I say that as a historian with an understanding that it even occurred throughout the Black Demise within the 14th century. There was a rebirth, a renaissance after that and even after the outbreak of influenza.
What I’ve discovered is that eating places are actually fragile constructions as a result of your success depends upon so many variables. Liquor shops are doing so a lot better, for instance, as are on-line operations, so I feel that individuals will have a look at the profitable fashions and incorporate them as a result of, clearly, this isn’t the final pandemic. I feel we’re in for different surprises sooner or later.