I am a self-made food fucking junkie.
I grew up in a house with a limited budget. That's how poor people say they had no money. We were DIRT POOR. Having electricity was not always a given. My mom made it all normal by reading to us by candlelight and designing little pickup cuisine with saltines and government cheese, made into sexy little delicacies by calling it fromage and wafers.
As I got older, maybe because of such romantic meals and the beauty that surrounded such encounters, I connected all goodness with food.
There is literally no childhood memory that I own that doesn't surround food, the good, the bad, all of em.
In fact, I got in trouble almost every day for sneaking food in class and harnessed a pretty successful candy dealing business out of my locker in the eighth grade, thank you to Vince, the janitor, for seeing my ambition and not my blatant rejection of authority.
Since my days of not having enough, I have eaten my way through my life, butter and goat cheese being the closest thing I have to a religion.
I surround myself with people who love food, love to enjoy it with each other, love to share it, talk about it, and don’t mind teaching me about it. I truly believe that if you learn about someone’s food, you learn about their life. If you learn about a location’s food, you learn the very heart of their culture.
When I moved to my island, my main concern was what we'd be eating. I've been lucky enough to find people that enjoy the whole experience as much as I do.
Fast forward, present day, I am on #ROCKtreatPR, a writers retreat with 9 of the most talented, beautiful, courageous women, who have been invited to Mario Pagan’s restaurant to enjoy his food.
We get dropped off by our cab driver in the middle of Condado, and after a little searching, we find Mario’s beautiful restaurant. Ambiance is not even the word as we walk in, it's simple and clean, and we are welcomed into a private room, welcomed with a drink called The Magdalena: lemon, St Germain, gin, vodka, and lavender.
I'm in love. There is candlelight. And even if at this point they would have placed a saltine with “pasteurized cheese food” in front of me I would have been thrilled… but that was not the case.
Mario, oh Mario, you've reminded me that my next husband must be a chef.
I’m not a huge fan of cauliflower typically, but my mind was broadened with a smooth and delicious cauliflower and truffle soup, I would have bathed in this. Next, a black chilean sea bass on cassava, with foie gras and port wine reduction. An eggplant cannoli with burrata cheese. Finally, Angus beef with local yuca gnocchi, and caramelized onions.
At this point I am stunned. Everything is cooked to perfection, and Rafael, the most professional “keeper of the writers”, aka, server, has made the experience seamless and comfortable for all. You can really see why he has been with Chef Mario for more than 20 years, he is incredible.
And then he brings us coconut cake with bienmesabe sauce and cocoa ice cream. He’s a closer.
The meal was probably pound-for-pound the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. He came out and so graciously greeted, charmed, and took pictures with us. The company I was with, well, they are second to none.
To be included in something so special, with beautiful women writers (now basically family), being fed by someone who is so talented and charming, well, I will never forget it.
And like the days of eating saltines by candlelight, this experience will stay with me always.
Thank you Mario and Raphael, and the rest of the Mario Pagan team, for making us feel like queens!
Links to the #ROCKtreatPR Group:
Chrissann Nickel: Women Who Live on Rocks
Jennifer Legra, Dominican Republic: Drinking the Whole Bottle
Riselle Celestina, St. Maarten: The Traveling Island Girl
Mariah Moyle, The Bahamas: Out Island Life
Brittany Meyers, Tortola, BVI: Windtraveler
Claudia Hanna, Cyprus: Live Like a Goddess
Jennifer Morrow, Puerto Rico: Jen There Done That