Connect with Kitchen Connection
Interview with Kitchen Connection Founder Earlene Cruz
“I grew to love food as a source of community”
AH: No stranger to great food, will you please tell us about what it was like to literally grow up in the kitchen of your mother’s restaurant?
EC: My mother, a single mother, supported me my entire life by running the small family restaurant with her sister — I would come home after school, and that restaurant was not only my daycare but also my entrepreneurial incubator. I remember the customers helping me with my homework when my mother was too busy to. I learned so much about the lives of the customers and their personal stories, and in that way, I grew to love food as a source of community.
EC: I’m a big fan of plantains; my family has always eaten them, and so I really enjoyed all of the ‘Red Red’ stew dishes, which you would dip the plantains into. For me, it was like a coming together of east and west – past and present – new and old.
AH: Will you please tell us a bit about the Expo Milano Experience this summer?
EC: I went to the World Expo on Food in Milan this summer with little to no expectations. There, over 100 countries congregated to share, present, and showcase all-things-food relevant to their country. I had only planned to go for 2 days, but as I started talking about Kitchen Connection with the individuals from the different pavilions, it became clear that I had to extend by stay. By day 4, we had recruited over 100 representatives from over 80 countries, from Thailand to Cuba, Benin to North Korea. It was really a rewarding and validating experience.
AH: In your ongoing work developing Kitchen Connection, you have identified cuisines that people seem to want to learn most about. Will you please share with us some of your findings?
EC: Most people tend to really want to learn about South American, Italian, French, and East-Asian dishes. I think it’s a question of trendiness more than anything, as each cuisine certainly has points of interest, despite dietary preferences. That’s what I’ve come to realize along my travels, and that’s what we want to share with the world through Kitchen Connection.
EC: Well, I spoke to these people before I even knew what Kitchen Connection would be. At its core, the idea was to virtually connect the world through food, so many of the questions asked were about the power of food to connect people and gauging a general interest in the desire to share and/or learn about other cuisines. I can’t think of a single person, in any of the 15 countries that we surveyed, who isn’t interested in learning more about another culture through its food. It reminds me of a story told by a dear friend of mine who works in the food industry about how through the World Chefs organization, they were able to unite reps from North Korea and South Korea at a table for dinner and how Palestine and Israel have a joint food association under the organization. The truth is that food has the power to transcend political, economic, and geographic barriers and simply connect people.
EC: I would love to master my mother’s Sancocho dish – a traditional Dominican soup, made from 3-4 kinds of meat and a handful of vegetables and yams — also a traditional Sunday dish of my grandmother’s. It’s quite a time-consuming dish, and although I know the basics, every cook, as we know, can add a special flavor/touch to it. My mother has found hers, and I want to find mine as well. I guess it’s a question of experimentation.
To learn more visit: Kitchen Connection at kitchenconnection.org