Latina Chef Gaby Melian Shares The Root Of Her Latest Cook Book for Kids

Inspired by the many years spent in the kitchen with her abuela, Gaby Melian, is ready to release her latest children's cookbook, Gaby's Latin American Kitchen, in August. But first, she reflects on the sweet smells and feelings from her family's cocina that led her to pursue a career in cooking.

Multi generation Latin American family having family lunch together in summer

My mom was a single parent growing up. Like many families, we had our financial ups and downs, but FOOD was always there and played an important role in our lives. No matter how much or how little money my mom had, she always made sure every meal counted. Each birthday we got to eat our favorite dish, for mine she would wake me up with a bowl of strawberries topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Once in a blue moon, we even went out to dinner for a special meal – and of course we tried everything, she kind of made us.

Sundays were special. I always looked forward to them because we went to my Abuela's house for lunch. These lunches lasted into the wee hours, sometimes evolving into an impromptu dinner made of leftovers from said lunch. On a quiet Sunday, Abuela would cook for 10 of us, but as the years passed and more primos and tias got married and had children of their own, the table got bigger and bigger. Some Sundays there were 15 people around her table and we'd have a three course lunch that almost always included a pasta dish (like my favorite, her "ravioles de seso" or cow brain ravioli), something green because we loved vegetables (she made us love them with her creative ways of presenting them), followed by a couple of desserts – her signature ensalada de frutas or her cakes made from scratch, never from a box. My Abuela's magic hands did everything in her tiny kitchen.

My Abuela would go to the market and come back with a new recipe every week, a recipe she learned by chatting with the vendors or the neighbors. And trust me, she'd make us try it and wait for our comments. Everything she touched turned into an edible memory.

I cook because of my Abuela. She instilled in me the act of caring for others by way of cooking.

There is a saying in Argentina, "al corazón del hombre se llega por el estómago'," essentially you get to a man's heart through his stomach. It is an old saying, but I like to rephrase it: you can get to anybody's heart through their stomach. When someone feeds you, they are telling you that they love you and that they care for you. When you feed yourself, it's the same. You are loving and nourishing your body. I've had as many memorable meals alone, as I've had with family and friends.

Food is what we all have in common. When a crisis hits, the first thing people think about is food – how will we nourish ourselves, our neighbors?

We all have our own comfort food – for me it can be a simple soup or a bowl of pasta with butter and cheese. For many people, these comforting dishes that we seek out are the meals we ate when we were growing up. It does not matter if it was a simple sandwich or a 3-course meal, the flavors associated with those moments will be forever in our brains, in our hearts. The smell of onions cooking slowly in butter and olive oil is the smell of home, and that reminds me of my mom and tias no matter how much time goes by. These are smells we will replicate for the children in our lives, so one day when we are no longer here, they too will remember us. That is why in our Latin American culture cooking is not only something you have to do or help with as a chore but is also a rite of passage. You are growing up and one day you'll move to your own place with your mom's chicken soup recipe and your abuela's secret combo of spices for that dish that will always remind you of home. Those recipes will make you famous among your friends (not to brag) and then, one day you will pass these edible memories down to the next generation, so they too can create their memories and perhaps tweak these traditions into new ones.

I created Gaby's Latin American Kitchen with America's Test Kitchen Kids because I wanted to share the recipes that have shaped me into the person I am today, this is the cookbook I wish I had as a child. I write because I hope someone reading my book will find a connection to their roots and an opportunity to make something special with their own families.

As I always say: Keep Cooking, Be Happy

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