Learning the Art of Cooking
By: Mercy Ramos / Photos by José (Tito) Meriño
Cooking, or preparing food, is more than a job— it is an art, and for many, it is the pleasure of preparing a good dish for the enjoyment of guests. However, to achieve a good dish that meets the objective of nourishing those who eat it, along with the pleasure of enjoying a well-prepared meal, one must have the appropriate knowledge.
Every country has its way of preparing food, its condiments that people use, and its forms of presenting meals. Like everywhere else, in Cuba cooking has its own characteristics, and experts say that it has various influences, including indigenous, Spanish and African elements and, to a lesser extent, Chinese, French, U.S., British and Mexican. However, today, there is talk of a new Cuban cuisine, which uses and recreates the latest international tendencies in this art.
All of this can be learned through the “re-qualification” and “renovation” educational activities that are organized by the Federation of Culinary Associations of the Republic of Cuba (Federación de Asociaciones Culinarias de la República de Cuba, FACRC), which has its offices in Havana Vieja. It operates a school-restaurant called Artechef in the Vedado neighbourhood, on 3rd and A streets.
According to Chef Eddy Fernández, president of the FACRC and an honorary member of the World Association of Chefs' Societies, the Cuban organization has a membership of some 70,000 specialists, and its main objectives include bringing dignity to the cook's profession and bringing well deserved appreciation to professionals in this industry.
“Through the FACRC, members can participate in educational activities at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of cooking, and in other specialties of the culinary arts. At the first level, they are taught about the basic operations of a kitchen; at the second, about basic cooking preparations; the third is about international cooking, and subsequently, a one-year course is given to reach the category of chef.”
The FACRC belongs to the World Association of Chefs' Societies, the Culinary Academy of France, and the Association of Gastronomic Restaurateurs of the Americas and the World, with which it maintains extensive relations of exchange and collaboration, Fernández said.
“It is precisely through those links that we maintain a fruitful exchange with specialists from other countries that belong to those associations, via which our professionals travel to other countries to teach courses on Cuban cooking and professionals from those nations come to Cuba, too, to receive courses on preparing our cuisine and to learn about its new tendencies.”
The Cuban organization also gives workshops for exchanges on Cuban and international cooking as well as many other educational activities, always with the goal of improving the knowledge of its members, he said.
“The FACRC was founded 42 years ago and reorganized 32 years ago. Our school-restaurant, Artechef, was created in 2007, and in the last five years, some 1,700 specialists have participated in our classes,” Fernández noted.
“Public opinion about the cook's profession has changed a lot, for the good, and this can be seen by the number of young people who are coming to the trade. Moreover, in Cuba, it is no longer a specialty that is reserved for men; the evidence of that is the fact that 47 percent of the professional cooks who are members of our association are women.”