Dan Goldberg, Andrea Kuhn and Jody Eddy made three trips to Cuba to do the research, cooking and photos for their cookbook ¡Cuba! Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen. They planned to focus on the paladores, underground kitchens using bootleg ingredients. However, they were overrun by tourists, so they instead turned to family cooking in the kitchens of everyday Cubans. This decision adds an authenticity and informality to the food.
The photos are stunning, particularly the photos of the people, their homes and their kitchens. I also loved the photos of the sea. The photos of the food had this authenticity and simplicity that set them apart from most cookbooks. The only false notes came from the shots of several dishes on a table at once. They looked so much the same and so much on trend. You know what I mean, lots of food, spilled herbs, nuts, and deliberate messiness. It’s done over and over and over in book after book and generally works. However, that spilling the food all over the table messiness is an expression of wealth and privilege and strikes a false note when representing the humble foods of people who make an art form of making do.
This cookbook is as much coffee table book as recipe collection. Every page is a picture. The text is printed on photos, many of them pictures of painted walls with peeling paint. In others, the text wraps around elements of the photo. It makes an extraordinarily beautiful book. Visually, this book is a feast.
The recipes are good, focusing on simple ingredients that speak for themselves. There are few recipes that have long lists of ingredients. There is not the abundance to indulge in that sort of cooking, instead a bit of salt, oil and roasting bring out the natural simple flavors of good ingredients.
I found myself feeling irritated, however, with Eddy’s frequent mentions of the oppressive Castro regime without even once mentioning the embargo. This is fundamentally dishonest and discredits the excellent work that went into researching the recipes and taking the photos. She repeatedly talks about the limited access to ingredients, to meat, the poverty and privation, the need to repair, not replace and on and on and on. With all that discussion of deprivation without even once using the word embargo is a massive failure of honesty. Telling the truth about the effects of the embargo would not excuse or diminish the regime’s restrictions on liberty, political speech and on the arts. It damages the writer’s credibility and does a disservice to the people of Cuba and the readers.
I was provided a review copy of ¡Cuba! Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen by Blogging For Books.