La Casa classes teach Latino cuisine

For Yalies who miss homemade tostones or savory asopao, La Casa Cutural’s cooking classes just might be the remedy.

Now in their third year, the weekly cooking lessons are part of La Casa Cultural’s celebration of Latino Heritage Month. The three-part series will feature lessons by two local chefs and one assistant professor who will instruct students on how to replicate meals from Puerto Rico, Colombia and Cuba. The goal of the series is to bring people who would not normally attend events at the cultural center to La Casa and to educate students who are not familiar with Latino fare, said Assistant Dean Rosalinda Garcia, the director of both the Latino and Native American cultural centers.

“We thought it would be a good idea to have some sort of classes that would help us celebrate the Latino culture,” Garcia said. “We thought about cooking and tried it the first year. It turned out to be an incredible success.”

The first lesson in the three part series was scheduled for last night but was postponed when the chef did not arrive. A chef from Porky’s Cafe in Shelton, Conn. was scheduled to teach traditional Puerto Rican dishes, such as asopao, a hearty gumbo soup. But the 15 people who came to learn will have to wait until next week when Carribean history professor Lillian Guerra will whip up Cuban treats.

Guerra said she became involved with the series after visiting La Casa for a dinner last fall.

A Cuban who grew up in Kansas, Guerra has been cooking since the age of nine. While at the dinner last year, she volunteered to teach a class on her native food.

“It started off as a joke that I would do this, but I took it seriously,” she said.

Although she is taking a leave of absence this year, Guerra has followed up on her promise to share her expertise with the Yale community.

“People who are not Latin American or Latino tend to see all Latin-Americans really as having the same kind of food, which is completely erroneous,” she said.

Guerra will be teaching students how to make tostones, which are twice-fried green plantains; mores y christianos, a combination of black beans and white rice cooked together; twice-cooked roast pork; a scallop dish; and a tomato and cucumber salad.

Students who attended last night’s scheduled class said they are looking forward to cooking traditional Latino dishes as well as gaining general experience in the kitchen.

“My mom is Puerto Rican, and she can make traditional food, but I can’t because I can’t cook at all,” Jessie Fried ’09 said.

Nicole Rodriguez ’07 attended cooking classes on Puerto Rican and Cuban cuisine at La Casa during her freshman year.

“I came back this year because I really liked the classes I went to,” she said. “We had the chef from Roomba come who was amazing.”

Garcia emphasized that instructors are required to make their lessons interactive. The classes are informal and designed to create a comfortable atmosphere reminiscent of a kitchen at home, she said.

“Something that happens is that people start telling stories about their homes,” Garcia said. “That’s what makes it a really fun cultural event, because these classes allow students to share cultural experiences. It’s not a culinary school, it’s a chance to come together and bring a piece of your home to Yale.”

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