Over the past few years, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center – whose mission involves nourishing, supporting, and educating Newport County residents – has seen an increase in the number of Spanish-speaking clients they serve. So when it came time to assemble their culinary programming, a class dedicated to Latin American flavors taught in the first language of many of their clients was a natural fit.
“We wanted to create a program for residents who speak Spanish as their primary language, where they would feel welcome, safe, and comfortable,” says Nancy Harten, director of volunteers and community programs. “This class educates the attendees about Latin American food and also provides them with a healthy meal to
Meaning “Latin Flavors,” Sabores Latinos weekly classes feature instruction on entrees like cilantro fish with flavored white rice, tostadas, enchiladas, and vegan stuffed peppers – meals that are accessible to any skill level in the kitchen but also hearty and flavorful. Two chefs teach on a rotating schedule of every other Monday: Yolanda (Yoli) Macías focuses on cultural recipes of Latin America, and Carmen Foy, of Middletown’s vegan kitchen Sprout and Lentil, translates traditional dishes in a plant-based context.
“One of my favorite dishes is green enchiladas – they are so simple to cook and healthy,” says Macías, assuring that even her 13-year-old son can prepare it. Sour cream and green salsa give these enchiladas creaminess with a kick. A native of Mexico City, Macías moved to Newport in 2014 and has since been involved with the Aquidneck Growers Market as a bilingual food access liaison, and as the director of operations at Conexión Latina Newport, her work centers around advocating for the Hispanic community to connect people with services and resources – like home cooking.
Along with learning recipes and tricks of the trade in the kitchen, Macías points to the value of meeting people from different countries and cultures and forging connections. “[The students] are in the class because they love to meet other Latinx people,” she says, “and learning to cook at the same time is a great combination!”
Chef Carmen Foy traces her first spark for cooking back to Spain, where she grew up, and her culinary studies and career have brought her all over the globe before founding her vegan takeover business. “With chef Carmen’s instruction,” Harten says, “students will learn to make delicious foods of the Latin American culture as plant-based, vegan recipes for those who prefer to keep a vegan diet.” Foy’s instruction is also rooted in health education.
Along with a variety of complementary services targeting food access and education, the MLK Center is a resource for Newport residents in need, and cooking classes are open to the public on a RSVP basis. In the short time Sabores Latinos has been running, Macías already notices the positive impact among her students: “I see how happy they are to learn new recipes with new and fresh flavors. Having the opportunity to share that with them is amazing.”