The Portfolio

In Focus: A Cuban Food and Love Story

by Ellen Silverman

Alberto singing and playing his guitar in Havana. All photos by Ellen Silverman. 

It's Chefs Travel week, and we're spotlighting chefs with new cookbooks — their books, their recipes, and, of course, their travels. The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History is a collaboration between writer Ana Sofía Peláez and photographer Ellen Silverman. Ana shared a recipe for garbanzo stew and her favorite places to find Cuba in Miami. Ellen shared some stunning images from her many trips to Cuba, a country that has captivated her. It's easy to see why.

In December of 2010, I made the first of five trips to Cuba. From the moment I arrived, I was both visually and emotionally intrigued by the people, the architecture, and the land. I found a lush landscape with people who were warm and inviting. From the first light of that first day, I was unable to put down my camera. Everywhere I looked there was another visual treasure, a family traveling with a horse and cart on their way to deliver milk to a market, a lone fisherman early in the morning on the Malecon with rod poised ready to catch fish, butchers in a market offering a wink and a smile. Often taking a picture led to a conversation, which added a richness and depth to my images. I have traveled the country from east to west, mesmerized by the color, texture, and rhythm of everything that I saw.

However, it is crucial to remember that living in Cuba requires daily compromises and a great deal of improvisation as well as ingenuity. To our eye, much of what we see may appear beautiful even in its state of decrepitude. But it is imperative to remember that life for most people in Cuba is difficult and beyond our understanding.

Sometimes a place grabs you and gets under your skin, and so it is with me and Cuba. My trips inspired three projects. As a food photographer, my initial projects centered the cuisine. My first project was a series of kitchen photos which became an exhibit entitled Spare Beauty - Cuban Kitchens. Next I conceived of a Cuban cookbook, the recently published The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History with Cuban-American food writer Ana Sofía Peláez. Together we traveled through Cuba: Ana interviewing chefs and home cooks and me photographing while we ate our way through the country. The third project, My Roots Lie Here, is a video about four elderly Cubans who have lived in their homes all of their life. The video is a visual portrait, exploring the relationship between a people and their homes and how our homes shape and describe who we are.

The Cuban Table

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