When I agreed to go to New York City to bake pastelitos de guayaba* for the Cuban Cultural Center of New York's (Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York) 12th Annual Congress, I was not quite sure what I'd gotten myself into.
*Pastelitos de Guayaba. n. A Cuban pastry made with a delicate flaky crust and a filling of guava and sometimes guava and cream cheese. See Refugiados.
First a disclaimer, I have made my Homemade Pastelitos de Guayaba countless times. So many in fact, I can practically do it in my sleep. Of course, that's in my own kitchen. With my own pans. And my own family to help if necessary. It's pretty simple and relatively quick, though not without some struggles – specifically, guava paste is kind of a sticky pain to cut.
When I arrived at the International Culinary Center of Manhattan by myself, I wondered if I had bitten off more pastelito than I could chew.(<–see what I did there?)
(Please excuse the graininess of the photos. All were taken with my iPhone and I was experiencing a very high level of jet-laggy-exhaustion, and I know there's an over-abundnace of "selfies" in here. Just ignore that and enjoy.)
I arrived at the International Culinary Center of Manhattan at 7:30 am on Sunday morning. I need to tell you right here how accidentally cool I felt when they opened the doors and let me into this Mecca of Endlessly Amazing Kitchens.
The agenda for the day was to explore Cuban Cuisine: del casabe al mojito and let me tell you, that's exactly how it went down. I hope to get more photos and the recipes from the other Cuban chefs to share, but today I'm just telling you about my own personal experience cooking for 100 hungry Cubans in the Fabulous Kitchens of Perfection.
They were gracious enough to pick up the items I needed from the grocery list I sent beforehand. And I set to work, unwrapping pastry and cutting up guava paste (did I mention this is the most sticky and difficult part of this endeavor?) and preparing tray after tray of Refugiados (guava and cream cheese pastries).
The biggest challenge was trying to keep the attendees from snagging the pastelitos as they cooled before my 3:00 pm presentation. Picture this: A roomful of hungry hungry Cubans. The intoxicating aroma of melting guava permeating the air with the promise of Guava Awesomeness. They just couldn't help themselves. I can't say I blame them.
In fact, it was quite an embarrassment of Cuban Food Richness as tray after tray of food came out from one kitchen after another. (I seriously have to get the photos and recipes from the other chefs. There's no way I can do any of their creations justice.)
Victor's Cafe provided lunch. And believe me, everything they served was Cuban Crazy-Awesome.
Arroz con pollo, Ropa Vieja, Fritas, Lechón, Moros, Croquetas, Ceviche. Everything was seriously, to die for.
Now, while all this fabulous food service is going on, I'm still running back and forth between the Pastry Kitchen and the one stove I could figure out how to turn on, setting my timer for 25 minutes and checking on the cooling pastelitos, which were making a giant guava mess everywhere and I was seriously starting to panic and hey! did you just take another one of my pastelitos, mister? Don't think I don't see you trying to hide it in that napkin! I was only able to peek in to the other presentations because, well, I was baking pastelitos for 100. (I actually made something like 160, but that's not important right now.)
Once they cooled and I was able to move them over to the large tray, they looked (and smelled!) pretty presentable.
When it came time for me to give my presentation, I pretty much completely forgot everything I was going to say. (Seriously, how sad is that?) Also, my hair was crazy-kinky-out-of-control-my-God-New-York-is-so-hot-and-humid curly, which I just had to not care about and carry on.
So I just spoke from my heart. I spoke about the love I have for our Cuban culture and how I am trying (pretty successfully, I think) to pass our traditions on and make them more accessible to the next generation, which is one of the major reasons why I blog.
I completely spaced on the "here's how to make pastelitos" part of my presentation, (I know. Shut up.) so I just sort of went through the motions. I think someone actually got this fiasco all on film, but I know for a fact that none of the participants were disappointed. The proof as they say, is in the pudding pastelito.
I also took recipe cards to share, which you can download for free by clicking on this link right here. You're welcome…
Trust me. No one went hungry.
Many thanks again to the CCC of NY for the invitation and for letting me share my love of Cuban food, my heart and my pastelitos.