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Cuban food culture 101

Cuban food culture 101

Taste of Cuba event at the University of Miami introduces students to the most prominent cuisine of Miami.

There’s no U.S. city closer to the heart of Cuba than Miami. And the University of Miami (UM) celebrates that connection every year with the Taste of Cuba event. UM Dining and the UM Federacion de Estudiantes Cubanos (FEC) come together for a night of Cuban flavor, exploring the food and culture in an abundant, fun and interactive way.

For many students from out of state, this event is their first encounter with the vibrant Cuban culture found in the area.

“Cuban culture is famously intertwined with Miami culture,” says Meagan Clements, director of marketing and guest experience with Chartwells at UM. “With 61 percent of the UM freshman class being non-Florida residents and 10 percent representing international countries, this gives us an opportunity to introduce new students to a food culture they will soon become familiar with.”

For the event, two dining halls were set up into little sections representing different pockets of Cuban culture, displaying packets of Cuban coffee, dominoes, empty cigar boxes and Cuban flags. (Dominoes are a favorite game in Cuba, introduced by the Spaniards in the mid-18th century, and games are often loud, boisterous events with many onlookers or sapos.)

Nearly 2,500 guests attended the event between the two dining halls, and Chef Carlos Clavijo, chef-manager at UM’s Hecht-Stanford Dining Hall calls this event “one of my favorites of the year.”

Clavijo, who grew up in Colombia, has found his cooking style greatly influenced by the spices of Latin cooking.

“I draw on my roots to create food that exemplifies the culture,” Clavijo says.

The menu included roast pork with moros rice and boiled yuca with mojo, shredded chicken creole with yellow rice and fresh green beans and vegan paella with sweet plantains. The roasted pork was served slab by succulent slab from a carving station.

And Cuba is definitely known for a bit of a sweet tooth—to go with the strong, fresh-brewed Cuban coffee—and desserts included Cuban baked meringues, Cuban rice pudding and quatro leches (“four milk cake” similar to tres leches cake).

UM Dining and FEC have partnered together before, notably when UM Dining’s catering arm, InStyle Catering, executed the food and décor for the FEC 50th Anniversary Gala last year, which also launched a new scholarship and won a NACUFS Loyal E. Horton Dining Award for catering in the Special Events category.

Clavijo says the goal of working with FEC is always to help draw students into different cultural experiences.

“Watching students who have never tried Cuban food before eat aporreado de pollo con arroz amarillo (shredded chicken with rice) for the first time is so rewarding,” Clavijo says.

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