- Veronica Velez Burgess
Updated: May 19, 2020
My family treasures food as a bonding experience. The dinner table is a sacred space where flavors are identified and appreciated and good wine pours generously, filling the house with joy.
I spent my youth in Colombia, one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world. My family is from the Caribbean colonial city of Cartagena, where the food is a product of the city’s diverse immigration history. A common dinner could be Lebanese kibbeh, pot roast prepared as it would be in France, served with coconut rice and plantains, which are African dishes, and exotic fruit that originated in India, but became Colombian staples.
Inspired by the social and cultural context in which I grew up, I studied Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics, then worked at an NGO in Washington DC on education programs in Africa and Latin America. We later lived abroad for my husband’s work in international education. After our first son was born, I received Le Grand Diplome in Cuisine and Pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I was trained by phenomenal French chefs who taught me knife skills, wine pairing, the art of plating, and didn’t hold back on the butter. I am a health-conscious chef, and I love real butter. I appreciate the goodness of real ingredients and real food.
I eat street food, restaurant food, and everything in between. I’ve had bush rat in peanut sauce in a remote village in Equatorial Guinea, jellyfish in Beijing, salted ants in Colombia, fried grasshoppers and cactus in Mexico, chicken gizzards and hearts in Rio, sea urchin in Paris, and lovely spots of tea in London, Fez, Port of Spain, Karachi, Jaipur, Shanghai, and Brooklyn.
Street food markets are some of my favorite places in the world because I find it valuable and appealing to speak to another person to buy food, instead of simply grabbing kale at the grocery store produce section and rushing, anonymously, to the check-out counter. I love that a conversation with a fruit vendor about dates very often becomes a conversation about something else completely unrelated to a date. This is my favorite way to understand a city and its people. We should talk to vendors about their cheese, their beef, their chickens, their lettuce, and their beets. We should know where our food comes from.
I hope my children remember our trips to food markets fondly, and that they continue to actively seek out good ingredients to prepare at home. My kids have plastic chefs knives, and they enjoy chopping vegetables for our dinner. People often ask me how I get my children to eat vegetables, and I explain that they choose them at the market, chop them up on a cutting board, help me cook them, and they’ve always had them on their plate. They’ve always seen color on their plate.
I believe the best kind of meal is the one made at home, prepared for a family, with love. When I prepare a meal, I open my fridge and try to use as many vegetables as possible in my dishes. As a result, our meals are colorful and full of life. That’s how I want my kids’ lives to be. This is the way I want to help enrich people’s lives through food.