Years ago, when I needed to source Latin ingredients for a project I was working on fo Gourmet Magazine, I reached out to Maricel via a friend and she took me on an extensive tour of all her favorite stores in her neighborhood in New Jersey. It was an extremely successful trip (I still remember the corn nut snack that we ate at a little Cuban restaurant she took us to) and I was blown away by Maricel’s exhaustive knowledge of all things in the Latin culinary department. I knew she was a terrific cook too because all of her restaurants in New Jersey keep getting rave reviews. The only problem I had with her as a guest on the show was narrowing down all the zillions of topics she was able to discuss. She is a fascinating woman!
Zucchini in Cuban Style Cherry Tomato Sofrito
Cuban Okra and Chicken Stew with Green Plantain Dumplings
Maricel Presilla is a culinary historian specializing in the foods of Latin America and Spain. She holds a doctorate in medieval Spanish history from New York University and has received formal training in cultural anthropology.
Dr. Presilla has done considerable research on Latin American agriculture – with special emphasis on tropical crops, cacao and vanilla agriculture, and chocolate production. She is the president of Gran Cacao Company, a Latin American food research and marketing company that specializes in the sale of premium cacao beans from Latin America. Her latest book is The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Chocolate with Recipes (Ten Speed Press, 2001). She has completed a comprehensive Latin American cookbook for W.W. Norton and has contributed articles for Saveur, Food & Wine, Food Arts, and Gourmet.
She writes a weekly food column for the Miami Herald and is as comfortable sailing down the Orinoco to collect recipes in the field as she is cooking at Zafra and Cucharamama, her pan-Latin restaurants in Hoboken, New Jersey. Last year she opened Ultramarinos, a Latin American store and cooking atelier, also in Hoboken, NJ, where she sells Latin ingredients, prepared foods, premium chocolates and Blue Cacao, her own line of truffles with Latin flavors.
The Culinary Institute of America
A Doctor in the Kitchen
“People go to the gym. I used to go to the kitchen,” says Maricel Presilla, author, historian, chef-restaurateur and general ambassador of all cuisines and cultures Latin. She couldn’t stay away from food and cooking while she was Dr. Presilla, teaching medieval history at New York and Rutgers universities.
She initially went for the physical workout that a restaurant kitchen could give her; eventually the kitchen magnet tugged at her wholly. Soon, she gave up academics and opened Zafra, a pan-Latin restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Her inquiring academic mind and methods didn’t stop however, so Maricel looked into the culinary history of Latin America and Spain. She began to research and write in the area of food. The scholarturned-chef began to do what she thought she had left behind. “Little did I think I would be writing again,” she said.
The muscle-work she sought in kitchens has morphed into the muscle to research food sources, especially the cacao bean and vanilla. She also heads Gran Cacao, a Latin American food marketing company specializing in chocolate research and marketing, and heirloom cocoa bean trade.
Among her books:
- The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (Ten Speed Press, 2001)
- Three illustrated books that explore the indigenous cultures and cuisines of Latin America:
1) Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad: Christmas Feasts of the Hispanic Caribbean, 2) Life Around the Lake and 3) Mola: Cuna Life, Stories, And Art (Holt, 1995, 1996 and 1996, respectively).