The idea of Kika’s Bocadillos is, more than an idea, a passion that has been accompanying me for almost 30 years. It emerged as a small dream in my native Dominican Republic, when I was just a girl under 13 years old. Kika was my paternal grandmother, with whom I lived part of my childhood, before she went to live in United States. I always remember her cooking for the whole family. Even though we lived alone, she always invented some excuse to unite her 7 sons, with all their families. She also invited her own brothers, her nephews and her friends, so I grew up in the middle of continuous family reunions. Everyone came to our house to enjoy Kika’s food. I always remember the comments about how delicious this or that dish was. At Christmas you could not think of a Christmas night’s dinner without Kika’s pastelitos de carne. But what I remember the most and what defines my obsession, is precisely her image in the kitchen, her hands preparing the pastelitos de carne, the kipes, the torrejas, the sancocho, the rice. Her face of happiness and satisfaction to see the family gathered around the table and happy. She marked me and in honor of her name I felt the need to share my experience.
As many families in my country, sadly my parents divorced when I was about to turn 13. My siblings and I were separated in the division of my parents “property” and that is how I ended up living under the tutelage of my father, along with my younger sister, who at that time had only 7 years old. My father worked outside the city, so most of the time my sister and I were practically alone at home. That is how I learned so early to take responsibility, not only for myself but also for my little sister. Thanks to this story, which could may seem very sad, was how I discovered and little by little developed my passion for cooking.
I had to cook for my little sister and I wanted to prepare much more than the beans with rice and chicken, which I learned from a very young age. Even though I always burned the beans, let the chicken so dry or put too much salt on (and also burned) the rice, it was one of those meals that I prepared in an “acceptable” way. Then, to renew the menu a little, I began to look for recipes that were easy to prepare but at the same time were healthy and good to taste. I remember in that search I discovered a cooking program led by Eugenia Rojo, who at that moment was a well-known cooker in my country. Looking at this elegant lady, with her blond hair, her charisma and her impeccable figure, I understood something in myself that I had not realized until this moment. I comprehended that I wanted to be like her. And when I say that I wanted to be like her, I’m not implying that I wanted to be an impeccable, elegant woman or to conduct a cooking show on television. No, I wanted to be what she represented, to be a cook, a chef. Cooking to make other people happy. Through the programs of Eugenia Rojo I realized at the same time that I wanted to be like my Kika. I wanted to be able to bring happiness to my loved ones through the food. That’s how, at age 13 I started trying to prepare the delicious recipes that this program offered every day. At first, obviously, without success.
I remember my first attempt, a pork prepared with pineapple sauce, through the television program I followed, without losing a second, the instructions of Doña Eugenia. I was hypnotized. I took note of every detail, I read it and read it again. I bought the ingredients and, one morning, I put myself into action. The result of that recipe was, in brief, a total disaster. I burned the pork, the sauce did not turn out like the one I had fallen in love with on TV, and the taste was so unpleasant that even the dog we had in the house did not want to eat it. So that day ended with a balance of three pots burned, my hands also burned, a nasty smell throughout the house that took several days to disappear (never completely), the food in the trash and feeding my little sister with a delicious bread with cheese for lunch.
For a “normal” person, especially a normal 13-year-old person, the result of this experience would have destroyed her passion for cooking, but thank God I have never been a normal person. I continued, now with what was becoming my obsession, to follow each of the recipes of this program and how many cooking programs I found on television. I started to prepare the traditional dishes of our Dominican cuisine, which I saw as a little girl prepare by my beloved Kika, so I started my long list of culinary disasters, burning beans, drowning rice, leaving the meat dry or overcooked, burning pots, burning and cutting my fingers, trying one, another and another again the same recipes and getting again and again the same failures. I was a real danger in the kitchen!!!. Did I feel frustrated? Of course. But by an internal force, which I had not managed to understand at that moment, I wiped away my tears, packed my frustration, healed my wounds and burns, and started again. Of course, I made sure to always have bread and cheese at home 😊. The good thing is that I did not have any adults nearby telling me that I was not going to achieve it.
Months and years passed and something inside me continued to give me strength, to push me to keep trying. My obsession grew, along with my body and my long list of failures. I started now to not only watching the cooking shows, I started to buy recipe books, to look everywhere for information about famous chefs, about international cuisine, about cooking and about exotic ingredients. When I saw a recipe, I wrote it in my notebook, I prepared it first in my head, I dreamed up preparing it and when I went to my bed, I also dreamed about the recipe, the techniques, the ingredients. It was always an obsession that accompanied me. One day, watching one of these TV shows, something in me woke up. I got up from the sofa, looked for the ingredients that were listed in the recipe and placed them on my table, but this time with a different vision, I decided to make my version of this dish. Then I added some additional ingredients and removed others from the list. This time I did not take note about the preparation and I started to follow my instinct and, surprise, the recipe was a success!!! I do not remember what dish I prepared that day, but what I do remember is the sensation of having discovered the right path.
I discovered that day a very important lesson. Sometimes it is good to follow the path that others have drawn, especially those who have achieved success, but only to motivate you in the search for your own path. Since then I have become much more obsessive and demanding with myself. I have learned to observe the work of others as a guide, not as a law of life. Still cooking programs are for sure my favorites. I am still obsessed with cookbooks, culinary techniques, the history of gastronomy from the most distant and diverse countries, spices, flavors and all this has helped me in my own way. I have learned the importance of undermining your inner passion for that passion you have, develop it, feed it, take care of it and, most importantly share it with your loved ones.
I learned, moreover, that it was precisely the failure of that recipe almost 30 years ago, that pig with pineapple sauce, which encouraged me to keep trying, to find my North. Thanks to this recipe I have managed to develop a healthy passion. My love for cooking allowed me to travel through unimaginable borders, and not just through the screen. Thanks to this passion I have managed to lean the Central American cuisine traveling around Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala and Honduras. I learned Mexican food traveling around the Riviera Maya. I learned my own gastronomy, as part of the Caribbean, with the Dominican and Cuban gastronomy, the South American gastronomy, with Peru and Colombia, European cuisines as influential as French and Italian, Spain, Greek. Lebanese gastronomy, Turkish gastronomy, Balkans gastronomy, with Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria … so that yes, I have managed to develop my own style little by little with what others have contributed. Some have welcomed me openly, others less, but always I have achieved to learn. And I’m still looking for more knowledge, because -as a famous Dominican proverb goes- knowledge is never heavy.
But the most important thing I understood in this gastronomic journey, is that passion, that obsession with cooking is my way of thank and honoring the person who gave the name to this blog. To the person who could in turn transmit me her passion and her personal obsession to unite people through food. In honor of her memory, where ever she is now… for those who are feeling that flame burning and do not want to let it go.
My goal, through this blog, is to share my experience and show you through my eyes what the rest of the world offers you on a gastronomic level, to contribute to your own project.