Cuba, like its cuisine, is a grand fusion of African, Amerindian, French, and especially Spanish influences. Prior to the country’s 1959 revolution, Cuban chefs produced a rich cuisine. Once in power, however, the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro closed private restaurants, and government canteens took on a Soviet-style blandness. Even worse, the end of Soviet subsidies in the 1990s resulted in severe food scarcities, and many Cubans suffered significant weight loss. In recent years, however, with Cuba under the more relaxed rule of Raúl Castro, private restaurants (paladares) are reemerging, and the country is experiencing a rebirth of its culinary culture. Von Bremzen and Schlow introduce readers to the brave owners and innovative chefs who run these new business ventures, who struggle to locate essential ingredients and avoid the glare of government inspectors. Von Bremzen’s well-researched backgrounders on the many mouthwatering, simple recipes—illustrated by Schlow’s handsome photographs—provide an education in culinary history. The new Cuban cuisine, like the island’s political economy, is very much a work in progress. But Paladares reveals the spirit and promise of a vibrant nation, brimming with entrepreneurial improvisation and artistic creativity, striving to rejoin global currents.
In Havana Living Today, Mallea, a Cuban American architect, does for contemporary Cuban interior design what Paladares does for today’s Cuban cuisine. Taking readers inside a diverse range of professionally photographed high-end homes, Mallea perceptively reveals sophisticated blends of eclectic prerevolutionary architecture, vintage furniture, and fixtures accented with contemporary design concepts and inspired by cutting-edge Cuban artists. But it’s not just the homes that are revealed; it’s also the people who own them, members of Havana’s wealthiest one percent: the remnants of prerevolutionary elites, well-heeled Cubans returning from abroad, internationally renowned artists, expatriates, diplomats, and the owners of new local businesses, including paladares and inviting boutique guesthouses. (The book notably omits the luxury homes of the revolutionary elites.) Each fashionable residence represents “the owner’s personal triumph over the island’s cultural and economic constraints,” Mallea writes. Looking ahead, Mallea believes that these elegant living spaces portend an exciting rebirth of Cuban design, even as he warns of the need to balance the pursuit of international design trends with the preservation of the authentic Cuban identity flowering in Havana today.
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