Chef Yadi Garcia talks about her happy mission in Latina

Chef Yadi Garcia talks about her happy mission in Latina

Image credits to Yadi Garcia; Styling: Mia Coleman / Thriller

When Yadi Garcia was in culinary school, there was a commercial part of her studies where students were asked to decide what kind of chef they would be. The assumption is that you will open a catering company, become a private chef, or work in a restaurant. But Garcia, who grew up in the South Bronx, had other plans—she wanted to go to farms and cook. And not just any farmer, but urban farms.

They’re like, ‘You live in New York. This isn’t the Midwest, girl. And I say, “No, it’s totally possible.” I’m going to the hood. I’m going to diabetes centers, I’m going to CBOs [community-based organizations]-I’m going to the church cellars. I’ll go to schools, I’ll go to farms, I’ll cook with community members. “

For the past six years, that’s exactly what Garcia has done. The first generation American, whose family hails from the Dominican Republic, works as a community chef, teaching cooking classes in an outdoor kitchen in Randall Island Urban Ranchas well as programs it conducts in partnership with schools such as Columbia University and the City of New York Parks Administration.

“I thought about my grandmother who lived to be 99. That’s when I started really thinking that food and health had a relationship.”

Randall’s Island classes are free and open to all ages in the community, and benefit from rice fields and 30-40 different types of vegetables grown on the urban farm. Farm setup is about connecting people to the entire food ecosystem, starting with the seeds and learning how to cook from root to fronds. But rather than making salads and smoothies, she shows how fresh produce can be used in Latin cooking, preparing roasted Caribbean eggplant, rice, peas, and roti from scratch.

“One of the classes I’ve taught the most, over 300 times, is this class called Sofrito,” Garcia says. “Sofrito is the most popular Caribbean marinade. It’s a combination of herbs and vegetables, and how we season meats and stews and rice. I like to use that as a starting point, to say, ‘Hey, we eat vegetables.'” We probably don’t eat it roasted or in a big salad. But we mix it up and use it to season our food.”

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Garcia first discovered the cooking bug when she was in college at New York University. “I had a really bad accident: I fell down some stairs and had four herniated discs. I was really sick, and gained a lot of weight,” she says. “I was just trying to get my health back, and I thought about my grandmother who lived to be 99. I thought about how powerful the elders were and how they were a symbol of knowledge and reverence. That’s when I started to really think that food and health had a relationship.”

It inspired her to sign up for Natural Gourmet Center Inside the Culinary Education Institute in New York. The Health Support Cooking Program takes a holistic approach to plant-based cooking, which is concerned with nutrition with an emphasis on whole foods and wellness. Through this education, Garcia discovered not only healing for her body, but also a mission to restore the way she grew up eating during summers spent in the Dominican Republic with her grandparents.

“Food became an integral part of my healthy journey, re-educating me, and coping with my roots. It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she says. “It became clear that we lacked a lot of representation. It was hard for me to find information about these things or to find Grandma’s recipes — not just my own, but other people’s recipes and cooking styles. I decided to make this my mission in life, to get out there and share The recipes I grew up with, sharing ancient cooking paths. It was a very personal journey and then it became very collective.”

Image credits to Yadi Garcia; Styling: Mia Coleman / Thriller

This spirit inspired her platform Happy healthy latina, where it seeks to debunk misinformation about cultural foods, i.e., that they are greasy and indulgent, an assumption often based on celebration foods. She wants to show her followers that Latin food can honor its cultural roots while also being healthy.

“I try to convince a lot of people to stay away from foods that are very high in sodium or trans fats or things that are not good for us, without cutting out the foods we already make,” Garcia says. “The way you season your food plays a profound role in that, particularly in Caribbean, Spanish, and African American culture — you don’t just give us salt and pepper, you don’t give us any bland food.”

“I decided to make this my mission in life, to get out there and share the recipes I grew up with. It was a very personal journey and then it became very shared.”

Nobody represent it eat luisaA part-owner food brand that makes organic sazoon seasoning and adobo, along with a sofrito cooking sauce based on a Garcia family recipe, with its own addition of apple cider vinegar and turmeric for a healthy kick.

“It’s an easy way [to introduce turmeric] Because my community won’t have a golden latte,” she says. “But you can make it into their sofrito, and they can put it in their beans, and then it’s very palatable. It’s an easy way of saying that you don’t have to take something to enjoy the benefits of others [ingredients] which we have learned about.

Image credits to Yadi Garcia; Styling: Mia Coleman / Thriller

Next, Garcia dreams of building an African/Caribbean/Latin cooking school in the Bronx, which will serve as a permanent community space that people can come to no matter the season. You hope this method of cooking will be exposed to more people, so that you don’t have to go to a Caribbean restaurant or have a loved one teach you to try it.

“Wherever you go in Europe, there are a million culinary schools. In Latin America, you don’t have that; in the Caribbean, you don’t have that,” she says. Inherited cooking.”

“Cooking is my way of communicating with the world and society,” she adds. “But the message is about paying homage to ancestors, about being visible, and being so proud of where we come from. In our communities of color, we talk a lot about our pain, and I use food as a tool to bring joy and celebrate the richness of our cultures and societies. I think of myself as a culinary historian, to help preserve on our stories and pushing them forward. I think it’s really important to reserve space for that, and I’m very humbled and honored to be able to do this work.”

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