These Latina Food Creators Are Helping Us Preserve Latin American Cuisine

Photo: courtesy of Karina Guzman.
I’ve never been one to miss a meal. Growing up Honduran in the Bronx, tortillas de harina, pollo guisado, enchiladas, and machuca (or hudutu, as my family calls it) connected me with my cultural, ethnic, racial, and national identities. Today, these nostalgic foods conjure memories of love, foster family connection, and offer salves for the tough days. But as meaningful as these recipes and moments are to me, I’ll let you in on a secret: I’m no Kelis. In clearer words, I can’t really cook
Don’t get me wrong. I do spend time in the kitchen. But with the exception of one or two recipes, my home-cooked meals aren’t exactly abuela-approved. When it comes to Honduran and Garifuna foods, I’m better at eating what’s on the plate than serving it up. But I’m getting better, and not only because of my phone calls with mom. Recently, I started curating a social media feed that includes Latine cooking how-tos and resources, and it’s helping me become better in the kitchen. 
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With one tap, I’m able to watch short, easy-to-make recipes on TikTok or Instagram and more detailed, step-by-step breakdowns on YouTube. The videos give the same approachable feel and stellar quality as Food Network hits from the 2000s, like 30-Minute Meals with Rachel Ray or Sunny Anderson’s Cooking for Real, but center Latin American and Caribbean foodways. Not to mention, they give us the cooking hacks that save us time and labor yet don’t compromise on flavor and taste. 
As I navigate my 30s and the desire to make the foods that have sustained my family for decades, I’m holding close newer traditions. This includes both learning to make gadamalu, or tamales, with my abuela and leveraging the power of social media to consult with the cocineras who are ensuring that Latin American cuisine is celebrated, digitally archived, and passed on for generations to come. 
Here, I speak with some of the Latina chefs teaching culturally rich recipes online about their connection with food and the importance of preserving Latin American fare. 
Norma Perez

Norma Pérez, 45, owner of The Salvi Vegan — Salvadoran-American in Ontario, California 

One of my earliest memories is of my mamá waking me up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays to make tamales. “Ponte hacer las hojas,” she would instruct me. This was a family affair with my sisters and tías gathering with us to make this savory Salvadoran staple. Moments like this one come to mind when I’m teaching my virtual cooking classes and someone joins with their ma or abuela, or when I share the vegan version of empanadas de leche poleada, pollo guisado, or sopa de pata on social media. Knowing that I can preserve and promote plant-based, traditional Salvadoran recipes en la cocina virtual brings me so much joy. 
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When I became vegan in 2015, I was concerned I might lose my culture. With food playing a huge role in how I connect with my heritage, I discovered vegan recipes that already exist within Salvadoran cuisine and veganized others (a total of 63 to date). Ultimately, I started The Salvi Vegan, a catering-meets-educational platform, a year later. I’ve fused my experience as a dance educator and cook to provide vegan recipes to more than 20,000 followers on my Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook accounts. Furthermore, as an Afro-Salvadoreña, it’s important for me to highlight the connections our ingredients, like tamarind and hibiscus, have to the continent of Africa. I want to ensure that the next generation is super proud of where they come from and their roots. 
I’m providing the skeleton, the recipe, but I want you to bring your own sazón to the dish. 
Xenia Zee

Xenia Zee, 33, private chef and producer of Chef Zee Cooks — Cuban-Dominican American in Long Island, New York

My maternal grandmother had a huge impact on my life, my culinary journey, and how I interact with food. From the moment I was old enough to drag a stool next to her in our Queens, New York, kitchen, I've been obsessed with recreating her recipes. I was her little shadow, and this is why I refer to myself as a grandma-certified chef. 
When she passed away in 2011, it felt like she was taking all of her delicious recipes to the grave, especially the ones I hadn’t learned yet. Starting a food blog shortly after was how I worked through the loss. In 2015, I launched what is now known as Chef Zee Cooks. Whether you watch a recipe on my YouTube page or tap on an Instagram or TikTok video, I want to make sure that you have something to go back to — if you’re ever missing a relative or a moment from your childhood. 
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I’m Cuban and Dominican, so I love that I can bring my own interpretation to my grandmother’s dishes. Naturally, some of my Dominican recipes have some Cuban influence to them and vice versa. As a millennial, too, I understand how our busy lifestyles make it challenging to cook traditional Latin American recipes. That said, you’ll find my recipes for both Instant Pot pollo guisado and ropa vieja as well as conventional versions.
I just want to see people in the kitchen celebrating their heritage, so they can pass their recipes on to future generations. I’m honored that I’m able to encourage roughly 300,000 people across social media to do just that. You've invited me into your home and allowed me to take part in a very special moment, which is eating and having that connection with food and everything it represents.
Karina Guzman

Karina Guzman, 30, public health professional and creator of The Little Arepa — Colombian-American in Arlington, Virginia

Growing up in Miami, Florida, I had access to all types of food, particularly Latin American cuisine. I can’t say the same for North Carolina or Virginia, where I currently live. As a vegetarian craving Colombian cuisine here, my options (beyond my kitchen) are limited.  
The Little Arepa, which I created in 2020, was born out of my desire to celebrate Colombian-American cuisine, flavors, and recipes that I know and love. Aside from my blog, I showcase my recipes in bite-sized videos on TikTok and Instagram, even breaking down their origin and pronunciation as well as providing additional information in Instagram carousels. I’ve done a bunch for Colombian staples like arepas, bandeja paisa, pandebono, and patacones, to name a few. It’s important that I share this information in ways people can process, including in Spanish. 
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As the daughter of parents who emigrated from Palmira, Colombia, I’m building upon the recipes and knowledge they’ve passed on to me. In thinking about my future children; I’m adding in Colombian recipes that I didn’t learn because I want them to experience those as well. 
Though I’m vegetarian, I’m not a food purist. Instead, I’m an advocate for making recipes your own. But it’s nice to see a tag in the comments from a fellow vegetarian sharing a recipe with a co-worker or friend. Whether it's a Colombian-American or someone of Latine heritage, or not, they're just really excited to see meatless options for Latine recipes. Vegetarian or not, I want other Colombian-Americans to feel seen in my recipes.  
I’m living out my elementary school dream of becoming a chef — one reel at a time. 
Isabel Orozco-Moore

Isabel Orozco-Moore, 34, photographer and founder and owner of Isabel Eats — Mexican-American in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 

Back in middle school, my late father would pick me up after school carrying chile verde with frijoles de la olla for me. I'd grab a bowl immediately, go sit in my room, and turn on the TV while I enjoyed this spicy, savory dish. Truthfully, I took moments like this for granted. Then I moved across the country to Pennsylvania for college. I was homesick. I remember I called my mom and asked, ”Can you walk me through how you make arroz — what do you do? How do you make your enchilada sauce?” I started writing down her recipes and, ultimately, decided to share them online. That led to the creation of Isabel Eats, and nearly 200,000 social media followers later it’s taken off. 
There are hundreds of recipes on my blog and across its social media accounts, but that chile verde from my youth is my most popular and memorable recipe to date. I’ve received a lot of emails from people saying that it reminds them of their upbringing, they’ve tried to recreate the recipe and it’s spot on. Hearing that feedback makes me extremely happy. 
Now that I have my daughter, Olivia, I hope that sharing all of these recipes makes her want to learn more about her Mexican heritage. Sharing our experiences, traditions, and culture, which includes food, is essential because when someone stops sharing those things, they’re gone. Our Mexican culture is really important. If we don't preserve it, nobody else will. 

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