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Food for thought: Students share love of Hispanic culture through food
Chaplin School student Eliana de Las Casas holds up her favorite Latin cooking spices.

Food for thought: Students share love of Hispanic culture through food

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations center around food: "I love the connection that food brings. I love that Hispanics love food."

October 15, 2020 at 11:00am

Spicy mango pepper pork tacos heating up in a slow cooker.

The smell of garlic, onion and pepper sofrito on the stove.

Taking a bite out of a hearty, Cuban sandwich...

These are the sights and smells found in the homes of so many FIU students who celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, not just in September and October, but every day through their love of food.

"You can really learn a lot about culture through food and that's why I love food so much, it connects people and you can learn a lot about each other," said Eliana de Las Casas, who is half Cuban and half Honduran and a junior at the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. She also happens to have won the "2016 Chopped Teen Tournament" on the Food Network when she was just 16 years old.

The 2016 Teen Grand Champion, who is scheduled to graduate in December 2021, says her favorite food is tacos in every flavor and form. She even makes her own tortillas using masa (aka flour), water and salt and hand presses and fries them herself. Her favorite filling is a mango and pepper pork.

"I love the connection that food brings. I love that Hispanics love food and it's perfect," she adds.

At a time when social distancing and mask-wearing are the norms in everyday life, the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and the cultures and the contributions of the Hispanic community, have taken on a different look this year.

On Oct. 13, which was officially Spain Day, students joined a Zoom webinar for a tasting of foods from Spain and followed along as chef Mat Shuster of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar in San Francisco gave background information on the ingredients, while participants made their own traditional, Spanish pinchos and tapas.

Students at the Chaplin School are also sharing their own recipes and spicing them up, thanks to one of the school's biggest partners, Badia Spices. The family-owned company was started by Jose Badia in 1967 and is now a leading purveyor of spices, seasoning blends and marinades. Students, staff and faculty can walk up to the front desk in the dean's office and ask for Badia Spice packets anytime.

Chaplin School senior JC Baltodano uses the spices to cook up his delicious, al pastor burrito. He marinades the meat in dried chiles and in Badia spices.

"As a young man from Honduras, I loved Badia Spices because I grew up using their seasoning to flavor my food," said Baltodano. "I enjoy cooking with Hispanic spices such as Sazón Completo or Culantro y Achiote. I am grateful for their partnership with the Chaplin School and for always being the inspiration behind my next great dish."

As for Chef Eliana, she can't get enough of spices and even makes her own blends. "I grew up around food and I've always just loved spices."

Students who share their favorite spices or recipes this month from any of the school's partners, like Badia Spices, Bacardi USA or Quirch Foods, will be featured on the @fiuhospitality Instagram page—that includes Chef Eliana's Slow Cooker Mango Pepper Pork recipe or Chef JC's Al Pastor Burrito.