Nitza Villapol

by Craig Stark

31 January 2023

The Cuban Julia Child

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I lived in Florida for many years - 90 miles from Cuba, as they say - and I came across this cook's (aka the Cuban Julia Child) two primary cookbooks often. At first their outcomes surprised me. Years followed, and their outcomes held fast. In the lean times that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union, they even surged some. Nitza Villapol was a fixture on Cuban TV for decades, not to mention a legend.

Her appeal had at least something to do with her recipes themselves, but a lot of what drives values here was and remains poverty and food shortages in Cuba. She had a gift for doing much with little, whether it was devising delicious recipes out of lower cost ingredients or simply doing without some ingredients and ingeniously substituting with others. One of her more noteworthy recipes was substituting plantain skins for meat.

Though primarily published in Spanish, these have been reprinted often in bilingual or English language editions as well. Everything will sell, some well into three figures - and there are collectors who look for first and early printings and pay accordingly. During the explosive immigration that followed in the decades after the Fidel Castro regime took over, it was joked that no suitcase left Cuba without one or both of these cookbooks inside.

You can thank me later.

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