During a recent trip home to South Carolina, I asked my dad to explain in detail how he makes a few of our family’s favorite dishes – Cuban recipes he learned as a child growing up in Havana.
For years now, I have tried to recreate some of the dishes myself – including frijoles negros, or black beans and rice – following Dad’s instructions to the letter.
But as my daughter so diplomatically explained when she was about 4: “Papa’s black beans taste different. I think they have more … I don’t know … flavor?”
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So during this recent vacation home, I thought I’d try to decipher at least some of his secrets.
When he announced one night that he planned to make Cuban breakfast tortillas the following morning – potato-cake omelets with chopped ham, onions and peppers – I told him I’d watch and take notes.
“No, wait,” I said, remembering the iPad I brought along on the trip. “Let’s take video!”
“Seriously,” I said. “We’ll do it like a cooking show, maybe send it to Food Network. It could be your audition tape.”
Armando Perez, a native Cuban and father of Eagle columnist Suzanne Perez Tobias, demonstrates how to make crispy plantain chips, a delicious firstname.lastname@example.org
That got his attention. My 85-year-old father watches “Chopped,” “Tyler’s Ultimate” and “Beat Bobby Flay.” He knows what it takes, and he was ready.
The next morning he donned his white jacket and chef hat, prepped his ingredients and identified his POV. (That’s a culinary “point of view,” in case you’re not familiar with “Food Network Star.”)
Within minutes, we were taping the first episode of “Cuban Cuisine with Armando Perez.” He whipped up that breakfast tortilla like a pro, explaining each step and adding key personal details.
“This dish, mothers in Cuba make with loooove for the children,” he said.
“I make it with bacon fat, give it a little bit more taste,” Dad explained. “But today we make it with butter because butter is better!”
I edited the video and posted it to Facebook. The next day we recorded Episode Two, which featured Dad’s delicious, deep-fried plantain chips. We posted that, too, and Mom shared it with her Facebook friends.
When I returned from vacation and met up with friends in Wichita, they didn’t ask about my trip, or the beach, or the weather in South Carolina. They raved about Dad’s videos.
Turns out he has star quality (You heard it here first, Food Network.) I promised to record subsequent episodes next time my parents and I are together.
In the meantime, this footage is a family treasure, one I’m surprised it took me this long to compile. I think about all the families who would love to have videos of their Moms and Dads making meatloaf, pho, tamales or baba ganoush, or Grandma making Thanksgiving pies, or Uncle Joe smoking the brisket.
Don’t wait, just do it. Grab a phone or camera and record those family recipes in action. You’ll be glad you did.