Cooking for Change
The Politics of Fine Dining in Cuba
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s illness is threatening not only his life, but also the subsidies from Venezuela that Cuba survives on. That’s why, a new class of private businessman, that exists thanks to Raúl Castro’s “reforms,” is rushing to consolidate national profits (with investment aid from Cubans in exile). Among the most successful of the new businesses is haute cuisine, which is served in glamorous settings by a highly trained wait staff.
- Is it worth-while to focus on the last images and letters coming from the inside of the last living utopia on Earth? Is Cuba by now a contemporary country or just another old-fashioned delusion in the middle of Nowhere-America? A Cold-War Northtalgia maybe? Can we expect a young Rewwwolution.cu within that Ancien Régime still known as The Revolution? I would like to provoke more questions than answers.
- Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was born in Havana City and still resides and resists there, working as a free-lance writer, photographer and blogger. He is the author of Boring Home (2009) and is the editor of the independent opinion and literary e-zine Voces.
Though the prices are in hard-currency (Cuban Convertible pesos) —and far too high for ordinary Cubans—numerous cafés, bars, and restaurants (Mango Habana, Le Chansionner, Mamma Mia, La Pachanga, Río Mar, and others) have brought the ailing Havana night back to life, something the State could never achieve.
Like a legacy from the 1950s, there are now thriving spaces for after-hours Bohemian dialog: Those democratizing debates that are such a source of panic for the totalitarian powers.
Whether from Creole cuisine or exotic lands, the food and drinks in these new, chic places (including a kitsch design favoring a mindless excess of buying) are always served with imagination. This, added to the pleasant surroundings and intimate music, has created a climate of public confidence after half a century of bellicose revolutionary speech. Little by little, the culinary arts are letting communist austerity be forgotten.
The owners of these bubbles of success in the middle of a worn social fabric, don’t much like cameras and microphones. They know that their licenses depend on this silence. The restaurant La Galería, for example, was closed down last month after hosting a freelance visual arts exhibition. But, as much as the chefs may try to keep it a secret, change is the perennial seasoning for their recipes. The exhausted image of the Cuban Revolution as a totem of proletariat paradise is further and further eaten away with each citizen that eats a luxury dinner. The ideal of the New Man has shifted from guerrilla to gourmet.
Translator: Alex Higson