My inspiration in this culinary travel
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 13 years old girl.
Kika was my paternal grandmother, with whom I lived part of my childhood before she went to live in the United States. I always remember her cooking for the whole family. Even though we lived alone, she always invented some excuse to gather her 7 sons with all their families. She also invited her brothers, her nephews and friends. I grew up in the middle of never ending 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. For my family it was impossible to think of a Christmas dinner without Kika’s pastelitos de carne. What I remember the most and what defines my culinary obsession is precisely her image in the kitchen. Her hands preparing pastelitos de carne, kipes, torrejas, sancocho, rice. Her face of happiness seeing the whole family gathering around the table is still a vivid memory. She was a great inspiration and I felt the need to share my experience to honor her name.
What seems bad is not always bad
Sadly my parents divorced when I was about to turn 13, a sad custom in my country. My siblings and I were separated and that is how I ended up living under the tutelage of my father, along with my 7 year old sister. My father worked away from home, so most of the time my sister and I were practically alone. That is how I learned so early to take responsibility not only for myself but also for my little sister. Thanks to this sad story 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 or put too much salt in the burned rice, and the chicken was as dry as the Sahara desert, I still could prepare it in an “acceptable” way . Then, to ‘refresh’ the menu a little bit, I began searching for recipes that were easy to prepare but at the same time were healthy and good to taste.
I remember when I discovered a cooking program led by Eugenia Rojo, who at that moment was a well-known chef 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 that moment. I comprehended that I wanted to be like her. 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 food. That’s how, at age 13., I started preparing the delicious recipes that this program offered every day. At first, obviously, without success.
A big mistake that changed my life
My first attempt: a pork prepared with pineapple sauce. Through the television program I followed, without missing a second, the instructions of Doña Eugenia. I was hypnotized, took note of every detail, read it and read it again. One morning I bought the ingredients and 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. That day ended with a balance of three pots burned, my hands also burned, and a nasty smell throughout the house that took several days to disappear (never completely). The food ended up in the trash and I had to feed 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 thanks to the universe I have never been a normal person (a Bravo! to myself). By then it was becoming my obsession, following each of the recipes of this program and how many cooking programs I found on television was my new normal. Then I started to prepare the traditional dishes of our Dominican cuisine, which I saw as a little girl prepare by my beloved Kika.
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, believe me!!!. Did I feel frustrated? Of course. But an internal force, which I had not managed to understand at that moment, made me wiped away my tears, packed my frustration, healed my wounds and burns, and start 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.
A sweet obsession that showed me the path
Months and years flew away 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 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. 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. 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 had discovered 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 yourself 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. Leaving your comfort zone to push yourself to continue advancing in the search of your best version has become my goal. You must discover your inner passion, develop it, feed it, take care of it and, most importantly, share it with your loved ones.
My (disastrously perfect) Pork with Pineapple Sauce
In the search of my own path I learned that it was precisely the failure of that recipe almost 30 years ago, that pork with pineapple sauce, which encouraged me to keep trying. Thanks to this recipe I have managed to develop a healthy passion.
My love for cooking allowed me to travel through unimaginable countries and not just through the screen. Thanks to this passion I have managed to learn 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 cuisine as influential as French and Italian, Spain, Belgium, Greek, Swiss. 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. Some of this countries have welcomed me openly, others a little bit less, but always and without exception, I have learned something from them. And I’m still looking for more knowledge, because -as a famous Dominican proverb goes ‘el conocimiento nunca pesa’, what means: 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 honoring the person who gave the name to this blog. To the person who contaminated me with her passion and her personal obsession to put people together 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. Showing you through my eyes what the rest of the world offers you on a gastronomic level and contributing to your own project makes me happy.