Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

Flavors

We lived in Old Havana and my mom was the one who used to do the shopping, so I would take advantage to cook and when she got home the meal was almost ready. The first thing I cooked was macaroni with chorizo and cheese. My dad used to love it. Before, the macaroni that were sold were long and hollowed out, not like the ones sold now which are short. That was his passion. Who taught you how to cook? I learned a bit of cooking with my mom who, although she was very good at making sweets, used to cook so-so.  My neighbor was the one who taught me the most, she was a magnificent cook. What do like to cook the most? I really like to make congrí . It comes out very good, in my style: separated and with pork fat. Your favorite “bread with something”? I love to prepare the bread with cheese, well-toasted, crunchy, well-crushed and burned on the outside. Rice with kitchen pot Actually the kitchen pot is the sauce left over from the preparation of dishes. But I also call kitchen pot the bits left over from the meals...

Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

American Travel Log

In the summer of 2016, after 16 years, I returned to the United States. This time I was able to travel through seven states, take many pictures and understand a bit more the U.S. culture. I decided that the best thing to show my friends and followers on the social networks would be a travel log with my photos and impressions during my trip. In these pages I publish some of the photos I shared around those days and that emerged from my American adventure. Options Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida More than 100 ice cream flavors and combinations. That's too much for a person like me. Options have been the main shocking experience for me on this trip. Coming from a country where to select is not a useful verb, trying to figure out what I really need or what is good or not messes up my head. That's one of the market economy's essential pillars that catch my eye everywhere. Homeless Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida Almost three weeks ago, when I came to Washington, these were the first two homeless people I saw. They're still hanging around in the...

Road trip

Road trip

Travelling through Cuba is an adventure - and an even more exciting one if you decide to do a road trip to explore the island. It’s easy to get from Havana to the eastern part of the country by plane, but doing it by car instead gives you the opportunity to see beautiful landscapes, explore turns that invite to get away from the main road for a while, or buy the most diverse products from people standing by the road, displaying homemade cheese, strings of onion or garlic, and fresh fish. You can also stop at every city, visit small towns, talk to the people, and learn about their lives. If you had the opportunity to design your own trip through Cuba, what would you do?

School of champions

School of champions

The Rafael Trejo Gym in Old Havana is not only frequented by world and Olympic champions. Housewives, boxing lovers, police officers and athletes train there every day as well. These pictures show the beauty of defined muscles, the movements that precede the perfect punch, and other moments in the training routines of these methodical man and women.    

Niurys Higueras, owner of the restaurant Atelier and Douglas Rodríguez / Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

Chefs’ stories

A group of four Cuban chefs traveled to the United States to spend time with colleagues in that country on the invitation of Cuba Entrepreneurial Exchange. This experience, which also had the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was an enriching one for all involved—a lot is written about cooking but there is always more to learn. This excellent opportunity was coordinated in Cuba by Niurys Higueras, owner of the restaurant Atelier and one of the most enthusiastic Cuban women entrepreneurs in the culinary world of the island’s capital. For several years now, Niurys and her restaurant have hosted the gastronomy creation groups Ajiaco Cimarrón and Cubanas Chef (Cuban Women Chefs). The objective was to pair Cuban chefs with the kitchen crews of various Miami restaurants, rotating them through different establishments during their stay in the United States. As a culmination to the project, the Cubans prepared a dinner at the Culinary Institute of Miami Dade College. The four cooks, selected because their experience and professional qualities, were: Yamilé Magariño Andux, a pastry expert; Luis “Lucio” Alberto Alfonso, chef of the restaurant Gringo Viejo; Michel Calvo, chef of the restaurant Atelier; and Gilberto Smith, chef and...

Vaca Frita. Photo: Alain Gutierrez Almeida

Flavors: Vaca Frita

Herón Vega Granados (Havana, 1972). Actor. He began his career at the age of 6 in the movie Portrait of Teresa, directed by his father, Pastor Vega, and starring his mother, Daysi Granados. His career includes films such as Video de familia, Ciudad en rojo and Las profecías de Amanda. I want to invite El Duque Hernández to dinner! I inherited my talent for acting and cooking from my mother. When I was a teen-ager, my parents spent a lot of time traveling for work. My grandmother was the person who did the cooking at home, but at a certain point she began cooking very economically, and her meals weren’t as delicious. Because to cook a delicious meal, you have to use seasoning! You can’t skimp! So I started cooking on my own. At my house, it was always like eating out, because my mom knows a lot about cooking. I’ll never forget the “a la chorrera” chicken and rice she used to make for my dad on Sundays! If I could invite anyone to dinner, somebody I really admire, I’d invite El Duque Hernández. I would love to have dinner with him, because I admire him as an athlete...

CORN CAKE WITH CHICKEN

CORN CAKE WITH CHICKEN

Liuyen “El Gallego” Álvarez Gallego (Havana, 1982). Earned his Chef’s certificate in 2012 from the Federation of Culinary Associations of Cuba. Has been involved in culinary matters for 14 years. His recipes have received various national awards, and his career spans work at a number of restaurants: Los Tres Chinitos, Los Nardos, Arte Chef, Bom Apetite, Atelier and Casa Vieja. Currently, he is working at the restauarant EFE and putting the finishing touches on a cookbook he authored. I ate every animal in the zoo! My favorite food is mashed potato and fried eggs. When I was a little boy, my mom would get me to eat by telling me it was pheasant from India. And you might not believe it, but I grew up thinking that it was really Indian pheasant. I was a very fussy eater and whenever we had meat, my mom would trick me by telling me it was a different animal every time. So as a kid, I ate every animal in the zoo. Today it was elephant, tomorrow gazelle, then crocodile…. And I would wonder where my mom was getting all that meat. But I ate them all. CORN CAKE WITH CHICKEN Ingredients for...

Rosana Vargas, jewelry maker

Rosana Vargas, jewelry maker

I had met Rosana before, so I wasn’t embarrassed to ask her to wear a lot of rings for her portrait. We would chat while I took her photo. The order in which everything happened perhaps was not the correct one, but the story is very funny. Jewelry making was something unexpected. I suddenly discovered that I enjoyed it and wanted to learn it. I was a civil engineering major at CUJAE (university) and I dropped out in my third year. By then I had come a ways in jewelry making. I lead her to a wall with faded paint…it’s the ideal background. I like how the portrait comes out. Now comes the good part: you can take off the rings! When I decided to concentrate on jewelry making, I didn’t have any appropriate tools. I had to start from zero because I was living alone in Havana and I’m from Holguín. One of the rings won’t come off. Try a little soap! I worked as a production assistant for events like Boleros de Oro, Danzón en La Habana and JoJazz. It was work I enjoyed but I didn’t earn enough to live on. Run some water over your hand…!!...

Rickshawing in Cuba

Rickshawing in Cuba

Cycle rickshaws have become an integral part of urban landscapes all over Cuba. In Havana they are used to get to points outside the fixed routes covered by local peso taxis (maquinas), get to places inaccessible for cars in the narrow streets of Old Havana, or simply to avoid walking ten blocks when one is late for an appointment, or is trying to escape the burning sun. A “bicitaxi”, as they are called by the locals, can cost up to 600 dollars. A friend told me a story about a rickshaw owner that went to live in Miami, but kept his three vehicles operating in Havana. Today, he supports the family he left in Cuba with the money the drivers pay every month. The price of the ride must be agreed on beforehand with the driver. Normally, a short trip (less than half a mile) is around 1.00 CUC (US$1.20), especially if the customer is Cuban. Some drivers may try to bring the price up to 2.00 CUC if the Cuban is accompanied by a foreigner. And tourists trying to ride by themselves may be given even higher prices, so make sure it is not so ridiculously high that it...

Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

Yunier Carracedo. Mechanic

Finding a Doctor Frankenstein and visiting his laboratory is not an everyday thing. (Although, to be honest, this stand-in for a Tim Burton character that I’m presenting here is not the only one we have in Cuba). The legends and ghosts that haunted the space now occupied by his workshop/laboratory were frightened away by hammer blows and welding sparks. From the age of 10, Yunier would escape to the lab, and when he was older, he studied alchemy and the anatomy of automobiles. He liked getting dirty with car guts. Today, he smiles and shows off his stained hands proudly. He’s more than a doctor, because he does more than heal; he revives. He enjoys the difficult profession of reinventing life. He’ll fix any type of car, but he prefers the ones from ‘55—Fords and Chevys. “They’re the best lines of cars to enter our country,” he tells me. The almendrones are still running today thanks to us mechanics who are always coming up with a new way to get them to start. We change their chassis, steering, transmission, whatever.” Yunier sees life where others believe there is no hope. He can skillfully adapt a car that...

Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida

With the gift of cooking, it just flows

María del Pilar Almeida González (Havana, 1949). Holds a degree in Primary Education. In 1997, she left teaching to take care of her mother, who was ill. Since then, she has been a housewife. She lives in Alamar. I use recipes from cookbooks that I have at home. But most of the time, I make changes and do things my way. When I don’t have a particular ingredient, I try something else, and most of the time I get good results. I taught myself to cook by reading and watching others. I’ve always been a good cook, and in the Special Period I did especially well, because back then you really had to be creative! With the gift of cooking, it just flows. If you don’t love what you’re doing and you don’t have that gift, even if you use all the right ingredients, it will never come out right. Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez Almeida Pumpkin FLAN Ingredients 1 ½ cups of pumpkin ¾ cup of milk 5 tablespoons of white sugar 4 eggs ½ teaspoon of cinnamon or vanilla Preparation Boil pumpkin until soft. Mix all ingredients in blender and then pour into...

Ángel Íñigo Pérez. Sculptor

Ángel Íñigo Pérez. Sculptor

In what used to be called Yateras, now the city of Manuel Tames, in Guantánamo province, a zoo filled with stone animals sits atop a hill. A strip of land still full of dense brush, despite its concrete paths, is home to these beasts. And if one looks closely, they even seem to shake their limestone-and-moss loins, darkened by the humidity of countless rainstorms and dewy mornings, emerging from green vines and fantasies. Ángel Íñigo Pérez is a man from the countryside and a self-taught sculptor. His father was the famous Ángel Íñigo Blanco, also self-taught, who created this fantastic panorama. The stone zoo, the only one of its kind in the world, was created on Dec. 21, 1977, on a farm, the Finca San Lorenzo. From a very young age, I would see my dad carving those huge rocks that had slid down from the mountains thousands of years ago, and that had a big influence on me. You have to have a real vocation for sculpture! It is an art that requires a lot of work; you need determination and a lot of talent to continue. A rock is just a rock when you first look at it,...

Carmen Paumier Galán / Photo: Alain L. Gutiérrez

Carmen Paumier Galán: sanadora

It was by the sea, right on Duaba Beach, where Maceo came ashore more than a century ago, that I encountered this interesting woman, who has many stories to tell and many aromas in her kitchen.  It is true that I had gone there in search of her coconut candy “cucuruchus,” made with honey and almonds, but I also found a story of faith and healing. Carmen is 82 years old. She was born in Baracoa, Guantánamo, on the bank of the River Toa, and she was 22 when she went to live with her husband on the bank of the River Duaba. She has been married for 58 years, and has five children—three girls and two boys, 11 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. When I was 9 years old, my mom sent me to the store to do some shopping. On the way, I passed a house where a little girl was screaming. I am a very curious person, and so I went to see what was going on. The girl would not eat or sleep and her mother was desperate. As I headed home, I heard a voice in my ear saying “Free her of the presence! Free her...

Eduardo Estévez Soto: Ascetic

Eduardo Estévez Soto: Ascetic

I admit that before I personally met Eduardo, I imagined him as a thin, bearded, long-haired man with much inner peace. And that’s how he was. “Ten years ago I decided to renounce a lot of the ordinary things that fill up people’s lives: money, material goods, and always following the mass media…” he says calmly. He lives in a tiny workshop with wooden walls and a tile roof located in the backyard of a friend’s house, where he makes ceramics for a living. At first glance, he seems to have few possessions: a handful of books stacked on shelves, a sleeping bag, and, perched in one corner, a laptop where he stores more books in digital format, along with documentaries on subjects such as philosophy and meditation. According to Eduardo, his philosophy of life is inspired by Tao, Zen and the practice of yoga. “My life was in a rut. I wanted to do more and couldn’t; I wasn’t finding a sense or a way to achieve well-being. I learned about the ideas of many religions, but none of them satisfied my inner questions. I decided to practice yoga, and around that time I got a hold of a...

José Antonio Méndez

José Antonio Méndez (Pepito), orchestra director

THIS PEPITO HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CHARACTER from the popular stories, although he does have a lot to tell about his life at the young age of 29. He is not the bugler from the Elpidio Valdés story, either, although he is a tireless fighter who in 2005 orga- nized once again, on his own initiative, the ISA Orchestra, which he still directs. He was a double major in college, which is quite unusual in Cuba: choral direction and orchestra direction. He has sung with some of the country’s top choruses, and for two years he played the harpsichord with the Ars Longa group. He is assistant director of Cuba’s National Symphonic Orchestra. I wanted to be a baseball player, but I sang and attended an art school. My father (José Antonio Méndez) is director of the Matan- zas Chamber Chorus and my mom (Liliam Padrón) directs the Danza Espiral company, also in Matanzas. Music for me was a game, and I thought, well if that’s the case, then it would be really great to study it. If you think about it, the Spanish verb tocar , in reference to music, is play in English and...

Asbel Morales: Rum Master

This story could have begun in a tavern (with rum included); however, the conversation was “fueled” by coffee. I’ve known the rum that Asbel makes longer than I’ve known him. Ever since I heard him speak so passionately about the subject, I’ve changed my drinking habits: now I drink less, but with better quality. “The history of Cuban rum is intertwined with the history of Cuba. The term rum did not emerge in Cuba but in other Caribbean islands. However, it was in Cuba that light rum was created, based on a spirit of higher quality and more pleasing to the palate, thanks to its aging in white oak barrels.” And that is how our talk began. “From the creation of that light rum until today, that beverage has been developed by mixers (mezcladores), who were later called rum masters. That is why the masters of today are the keepers of a centuries-old tradition that is an important part of our culture. Rum is Cuba’s heritage, passed on from generation to generation.” Asbel works for the Havana Club brand at the dark rum distillery. He is 45 years old, and has 26 years of experience. He has worked in rum...

Sancti Spiritus, a City Remembered

Sancti Spiritus, a City Remembered

Sitting in the doorway of his home, Abelardo Bernal can assume from the indiscreet sound of camera shutters and whispered English that his photo is being taken by tourists. He senses that his gangly, old-fashioned bearing, and the building where he lives—rebuilt over and over in the same spot since the mid-19th century—have an appealing effect on the knots of strangers that roam the narrow streets of the city’s old district. He can even guess at their disconcerted expressions, but it’s just a guess: Abelardo has completely lost his sense of sight. “I haven’t been able to see anything for almost 20 years now, so I can’t talk about the Sancti Spíritus of today; I can only talk about the Sancti Spíritus that I remember,” he says with the serenity of a man who has learned to deal with his blindness. “And you know what? Living in nostalgia has its charms.” At the age of 94, this one-time pharmacist, book-seller, and retail worker adjusts to a routine imposed by circumstance: he wakes up early (“even though I don’t work, I can’t change my body’s habits”); allows himself to be guided in his daily domestic tasks by his only daughter, “who...

Gourmet in Cuba?

A gourmet is a person with a delicate, refined palate, a sophisticated connoisseur of combinations of flavors with the ability to discover and certify quality. That word also refers us to a whole philosophy associated with the restoration, origin and preparation of food products, also known as gastrosophy. The term gourmet, refers to serving and presenting a table, which involves dressing well, good music, and a real bon vivant lifestyle that sublimates pleasures and makes them into spectacle. Cuba is going through a gastronomy boom. The perception of basic gastronomy left by the harshest years of economic crisis has been left behind, and excellence is striving to take over, to find a space among the new businesses that are opening. Traditional Cuban cooking is adopting other nuances. Good cuisine is being made from what can be found at the market, and the standards of the most refined palate are being raised. This momentum is being checked by difficult access to fresh and exclusive products and the impossibility of importing many raw materials that are essential for high-level food services. In the context of the island’s current economic opening, OnCuba selected some of the best restaurants in Havana and launched this...

Santa Teresa restaurant celebrates its third anniversary

Just as traditions and customs are born, stopping at the Santa Teresa restaurant in a neighborhood called Alturas del Casino in Camaguey province might become obligatory. The restaurant, specialized in Italian and Cuban cuisine, cannot cope with its clientele which increases proportionally with the quality of its food. It started as a sunny backyard with barely a small guano ranch, but now it has become a gastronomic referent in the province. Rey, its owner, works incessantly for perfection and has made a race for improvement rather than for profits. The staff at Santa Teresa is aware of the fact that their presence there is not part of a mechanical servicebut an exercise of creativity. That’s why it is usual to see Rey encouraging his staff to take part in gastronomic events or looking for talents to take to his restaurants. Now, the backyard has expanded and has an air-conditioned bar which offers attractive cocktails and a broad selection of wines, rums and liquors. Behind the bar, barmen perform acrobatics with bottles and cocktail shakers. Rey is proud of his work. The quality of food is excellent, prepared with lots of care and with fresh products from the town. Santa Teresa...

Fourth Cuba Golf Cup Wraps up in Varadero

In an atmosphere of camaraderie the VI Cuba Golf Cup in the resort of Varadero wrapped up yesterday. The event boasted 51 participants, 46 men and 5 women, from nine countries: the USA, Canada, Spain, Argentina, China, Vietnam, Germany, England and Cuba. The event was held at the Varadero Golf Club facility founded in 1998 and is 3.5 km long, has an area of 72 hectares and 18 holes, par 72. The competition was organized by the Palmares Extrahotelero Group and sponsored by Escencia Group, Caribbean Resort & Golf, Beach Golf Resort, IGRM and La Gran Antilla companies. The call was made to professional players and amateurs over eighteen with certified handicap of twenty-four in the case of men, and equal to or less than thirty in the case of women. A round of practice and two within the competition were performed to dispute two awards per category. Steven McKenna of England was the winner of the Gran Copa Carbonera, while Yanet Mendez of Cuba was the winner of the tournament in the Ladies category. Yanet said she plays golf since she was seven. Last year this athlete won the Memories tournament. Her enrollment this year was sponsored by the...

Tania Alvarez: gymnast and dancer

As I headed to the La Castellana Psychopedagogic Medical Center in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality to learn about Tania’s life and work, I thought that I was going to feel uncomfortable among its patients and their disabilities. I imagined I would find sad stories, and tried to prepare myself. However, when I walked through the gate into the center, something magical happened; from the heat and noise of the boulevard outside, I stepped into coolness and laughter. A group of boys and girls were tossing a ball back and forth in the courtyard. A patient examined the color of my socks, his particular way of introducing himself to strangers. Two patients walked by carrying gardening tools. There was no call for pity here; I was surrounded by cheerfulness. Most of these patients have fulfilled their dreams and achieved incredible things. I then felt pity for those of us who had not witnessed this magic. Tania, 30, was born with Down’s syndrome. She is a soloist with the La Castellana dance group, and at this center she has acquired all of the resources she needs to face and enjoy life. She has mischievous smile and is playful. She likes being photographed,...

Anitée Vidal Zúñiga: Veterinarian and pet stylist

It’s after 5 p.m., and it’s dark outside. In the salon, formerly a garage, several people are waiting with their babies, oops, I mean their pets, in their arms…. “Hi, I’m the journalist that called,” I introduce myself. Anitée looks at me with a tired, “not today” expression, and it almost was “not today,” but I used my charms, my “plan B” face,” and it worked. Her arms are all scratched up. Evidently, her job is not easy. Washing a dog is not as difficult as drying it. Often the noise of the dryer scares the animals and they want to jump off the table. That moment and cutting their nails are the most complicated. I was attacked by a SharPei, one of those cute, wrinkly dogs that have a very bad temper. It bit my arm and hands. It was my fault because I didn’t adjust its leash correctly, I didn’t hold it in place. She and her two colleagues spent several days working on a dog show, and today their establishment is full of customers. A complete service that includes wash and dry, ear cleaning, teeth cleaning, and hair cutting, for a short-haired dog such as a Labrador...

What happened to tourism in Cuba in 2013?

Cuba closed 2013 with 61,000 rooms, of which 65 percent are in four and five star hotels. Although Cuba is still 0.3 percent below the same period in the previous year in terms of arrivals of tourists, the Ministry of Tourism of Cuba (MINTUR) expects to close the year 2013 with encouraging results for the sector. At a press conference hosted by the Ministry of Tourism commercial director , José Manuel Bisbé and Luisa Pérez, quality director of that entity , offered details of the expectations that the country with regard to tourism . The most recent actions of the institution portend a positive development in the tourism industry after the presentation of the promotional campaign Authentic Cuba in Spain, Ecuador and Colombia. They also discussed about new flights from Munich, Germany, to the city of Santa Clara and Varadero , from Poland to Varadero and from England to Holguin and biweekly routes from Denmark. Some countries are beginning to take more interest in Cuba as tourist destination: France, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, Scandinavia, Poland, Czech Republic, Australia, Angola and Haiti. They are one of the most significant. However Canada, the country's first emitting market to Cuba already met...

Bad weather in Havana

Just when a new cold front hits Havana, the news of the suspension of consular services at the Cuba Interests Section in the United States has come. It's Thanksgiving Day. It is a holiday for Americans. The area surrounding the US Interests Section is empty. Only a few of which offer the service of filling out forms are on the sidewalks. “To us it does not affect us at all this situation. The problem is there, with whom want to come. I imagine the dilemma of families who thought of meeting soon, “one of the ladies that offered to fill the forms tells me. A 70 year old woman who asked to remain anonymous has come to find out if they had actually canceled the consular services between the U.S. and Cuba. "I came to see if indeed they had closed the office. I'm hoping to go and see my son and I worry about not being able to do it. " The few people in the surrounding areas avoid talking about it and just say they knew what was going on through Granma newspaper. Irene, an America that works in Cuba in academic exchange programs with USA, is upset...

Christmas & new year’s dinners

Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners in Cuba are beginning to take off in a different way. Modest but continuous economic growth has created a more cosmopolitan attitude among our people, and traditions are becoming more international. Now just having dinner with the family is not enough—more Cubans are dining out. OnCuba has a few suggestions for places where you can spend these important holidays with family and friends. Mediterráneo Havana This recently opened restaurant proposes a “cena sarda,” or Sardinian dinner, by Italian chef, Luigi Fiori, featuring a cuisine from that Italian island with the tropical twist of Cuban products. A Mediterranean flavor at  the New Year’s Eve table invites diners to roast kid, charcuterie and fresh cheeses, spinach raviolis and gnocchi, all artisanal using their own raw materials, a distinctive hallmark of this eatery. For Christmas, the special offer features turkey. Río Mar This restaurant stands on the banks of the long kiss between the River Almendares and the sea, and features exquisite taste and attractive interior design. Chefs Alberto Jesús Álvarez and Jorge Luis Méndez base their work on traditional Cuban cooking, and in line with the tastes of these times, use totally natural ingredients. The chef’s...

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