Although we have always insisted that the Latin community is not a monolith — and we continue to do so — there are cultural traits in which we coincide and unify the different Latin American regions. One of them is food.
Our identities are intrinsically interwoven between flavors and aromas, traditional recipes, and secret ingredients that have been passed down from generation to generation. It seems, however, that we live in different times in which cuisine is not given priority, putting at risk a fundamental pillar of our cultural identity.
That is why the work of spaces like Familia Kitchen, brought to life by Kim Caviness and Lisa Hunt Stevens, is more important than ever for Latinx cuisine to be prioritized.
Mission: To preserve the heritage
As stated by the founders, Familia Kitchen’s mission is to collect, curate, and celebrate Latinx culinary heritage at its most authentic and delicious.
In a recent interview with Caviness, she told us that Familia Kitchen wants to go the “family famous” route.
“I’m actually calling up people who are recommended by other people; I’m going family-famous,” she told us. “You know, that person who’s famous in your family for a specific recipe? That’s who I’m talking to.”
Caviness grew up in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and now lives in Chicago. She’s always worked in publishing, journalism, film, and content. Yet, cooking has always been one of her passions and places of comfort.
“I’ve always liked to cook, just to relax, so on weekends and nights, I would cook.”
But the urgency for her to create Familia Kitchen didn’t start until December 15th, 2019.
Before the world shut down, she was trying to recreate Puerto Rican arroz con pollo, one of Puerto Rico’s national dishes, and was astounded at not finding an authentic recipe.
“I went to one of the major media sites, and I looked for arroz con pollo, and it began with ‘chop a jalapeno,’ and I thought: ‘Wait, OK.’ We love jalapenos, but never in the history of the world has it gotten near the island of Puerto Rico.”
“I remember thinking that ‘this is what it’s like when people are trying to create Latino things that aren’t Latino.”
Though she understands that whoever was behind that particular recipe was well-intentioned, she knows that the whole process of putting together recipes for everyone in the Latinx community is difficult, and at best, confusing.
Family-oriented and based on recommendations
In order to capture the authenticity of the culture, she interviews people on a one-on-one basis. She also asks random people about their favorite recipes and who is the beholder of the most prized dish in their family for the sake of creating an inclusive food glossary for the Latinx community.
“I ask around everybody I meet. If I sit next to you at the airport, I’m going to ask you about what you cook and what you eat, and then I’m going to ask you who’s the best cook in your family.
“Some people have told me that it’s their tia Rosa or so and so, to which I always respond by asking if I can call them.”
Familia Kitchen’s is clear on their mission: they want the real deal.
Once Caviness receives the recipes, she types them up and cooks them. However, she believes it’s important that she gives each recipe the respect it deserves.
“I don’t want to tell some Abuela, the authority that she must be, what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m taking it one abuela recipe at a time.”
“And if an Abuela says: ‘Yes, this is how I make it for my family.’ Then, that’s more than enough, especially if someone in her family recommended her.”
When asked why she is placing plenty of emphasis on the Abuelas of Latin America, she said that these are the dishes they can cook repeatedly.
“This food is usually the most delicious, the most simple, and the most memorized version of it. It’s in their heads. So, there’s not one extra ingredient that doesn’t add a lot of flavors. These are time tested and loved by families.”
The Puerto Rican-raised entrepreneur said that she knew somebody needed to create a treasury, like an archive of our most important recipes and include all of us.
“To give them their due, their space, their dignity, and their respect, but then also explain how they’re different as well as how they’re the same.”
Through this, Familia Kitchen honors the Abuelas, their stories, and our ancestor’s legacies.
“Food transcends everything.”
Familia Kitchen is more than a treasury of recipes — it’s also a space where people can learn more about the community’s unique ingredients.
“We write about it all, and we go deep. You know, it is said that platanos came over on ships from Africa and became a staple. Then, they took hold in our terrain throughout Colombia, throughout the Caribbean regions.”
They also ran a story on why some Latin American countries eat tamales every February 2nd, which did very well because people are interested in learning about their traditions.
“It’s deeply rooted in anthropology, and sometimes we don’t even know it. But entire rituals of families have come around that, so people love to learn about this, too.”
With the creation of this site, she hopes that the younger generations will start cooking more.
The popularity of Grubhub and other meal services aren’t exactly motivating many people to cook nowadays. But she believes that cooking for the sake of preserving our cultural heritage can be that inspiring factor that’s been missing these past few years.
“It’s just so easy to order in, but it’s better for you just to get your family’s legacy going. Make those frijoles that your grandmother that you’ve always loved, learn how to make them.”
“Also, learn what you like and then feed your friends. It’s better for the planet, it’s better for your soul, and it’s better for your sense of identity in the world.”
Evidently, there’s so much that Familia Kitchen can teach our community: They have recipes, history, and a true desire to strengthen our heritage.
“We want to be a really big tent that everybody can come in under and just join us. It’s truly a movement. Our mission is to cook our way home and to help people cook their way home.”
“I really see it as becoming the best, most trusted, authoritative archive of us; our history cannot get lost.”
Currently, Caviness is working on a highly sought-after cookbook with the recipes she’s been able to receive. The book is set to be released next year, just in time for Mother’s Day.
So, stay tuned for it or give their site a browse — you’re bound to find something that your Abuela once made you.