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Photo of Zella Palmer Cuadra.
Photo by Edgar Mauri Sierra

The Big Tasty

How Zella Palmer Cuadra’s MA project became a cookbook

Zella Palmer Cuadra has had a soft spot for New Orleans and its cuisine since she was a child, enjoying gumbo at the Big Easy house of her grandfather (who was Creole). She also developed a taste for museum studies at U of T. These dual loves have now combined in her “documentary cookbook,” New Orleans con Sabor Latino: The History and Passion of Latino Cooking, which features recipes as well as text. “The Latino community has made many contributions to the rich culinary traditions of New Orleans,” she says.

The book began during a graduate internship at the city’s Southern Food and Beverage Museum, midway through Palmer Cuadra’s U of T degree (MMSt 2010). When she returned to Toronto, she discovered that her professor Cheryl Meszaros had passed away from cancer. She decided to honour Meszaros by finishing her New Orleans research: the cookbook is dedicated to the professor’s memory. “She always used to say ‘Follow your dreams,’” says Palmer Cuadra, who is now working on an independent cooking show that incorporates the culinary history of food. “And that’s what I did with this book – I followed my dreams.”

First, she had to muster enough funds to move to Louisiana, which she did by selling gumbo to her museum studies classmates. She didn’t have a car, so she biked across the city, interviewing foodies such as famous restaurateur Chef Adolfo Garcia and retired fisherman and home cook Mike Martin. Every page of the book highlights how the Latino community has helped shape the unique identity of New Orleans since the early 1700s. For example, before sausage was introduced to gumbo, many Big Easy recipes used ham – a Spanish food staple. “I wanted to give a voice to Latino communities that aren’t as recognized as Creoles or Cajuns in New Orleans,” she says. “They are really part of that “gumbo” that brings the city together.”

Try a tasty recipe from New Orleans con Sabor Latino: Paella de Camarones con Chorizo de Camaron (Seafood Paella with Shrimp Boudin)

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