New Jersey, 1995

Buen Provecho:  500 Years of Hispanic Cuisine

Buen Provecho:  500 Years of Hispanic Cuisine is a hardcover spiralbound recipe book compiled by the Hispanic Association of AT&T Employees (HISPA), New Jersey Chapter.   HISPA began life in 1984 as an AT&T employee resource group and professional development organization.  The New Jersey Chapter was the founding chapter, and at the time the cookbook was prepared HISPA boasted more than forty local chapters throughout the United States and Latin America.   In addition to providing networking opportunities for AT&T employees, HISPA took a broader interest in education and academic achievement.  This cookbook was prepared to raise funds for the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund (now simply the Hispanic Scholarship Fund), a long-time partner of HISPA.

HISPA opened its membership to non-AT&T employees in 2005 and became an independent charitable organization in 2006.  (The employee resource group continues as AT&T HACEMOS.)   The acronym was retooled to reflect their broader mission statement: “Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement”.   HISPA prepares Hispanic high school students for college by providing them with role models, mentors, and unique educational experiences.   Today, HISPA has chapters in New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Florida and has provided unique educational opportunities for over 13,000 students.

My copy of Buen Provecho came to me by way of good friends and former bandmates who were moving to Brazil.  I spent several years playing local parties and festivals in an eclectic Latin rock band, who kindly accommodated me despite having limited Spanish and not a lick of Latin American blood.  Over the years we had members from Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Colombia.  Besides the pure joy of making music, it was also an opportunity for me to become acquainted more intimately with the multiplicity of cultures and their respective cuisines.   I had a pretty good handle on Mexican food from growing up out West, augmented by my furious reading and rereading of Diana Kennedy’s Tortilla Book.  But after a half dozen Puerto Rican festivals and Chilean Independence celebrations I started to get the feel for just how much I had been missing.  And so I started asking questions and looking over shoulders and trying my best to recreate the amazing dishes I’d been eating for my own family.

Buen Provecho has taken me even further down the rabbit hole.  Recipe authors’ heritage spans the whole of the South American continent, Central America and the Carribean, and the entire length of the American southern border.   There are even a few recipes thrown in from Spain for good measure.   I live by the credo that people would understand each other better if they ate each others’ food, and the preparers of this cookbook agree.  From the introduction:

The New Jersey Chapter of HISPA delights in taking you on a journey of the many flavors of our culture as we showcase the foods of each of our countries.

We have compiled our friends’ favorite recipes from each country and have kept them as uncomplicated as possible so they can become your favorites, too.

This cookbook is an absolute gift, no insider knowledge required.

The Recipes

This is one of the few cookbooks I own that I wish I had the wherewithal to cook cover to cover.  Buen Provecho contains many of the recipes that I came to love and several dozen more that I seem to never have time to try.  Each recipe is identified by country of origin and there is an extensive glossary which includes translations and descriptions of ingredients not typical for American kitchens.  And, like any good community cookbook, there’s a multiplicity of voices represented.  There’s no one screening recipes to make sure they’re “authentic”, and many of the recipes are gleefully Americanized.   The one thing they have in common is that they’re delicious.

Selected Recipes

Frijojes Negros with Sofrito (Cuba)

Latino Yuppie Baked Green Rice (Columbia)

Mexican Chicken with Prunes and Bananas (Mexico)

Pastel de Choclo (Chile)