Paying it forward for venezuela
Nicolle Borrero and Adriana Urbina
Adriana Urbina is an incredibly talented and thoughtful chef living in Brooklyn, NY,
taking strategic and urgent action every month to give back to her Venezuelan community. Adriana was recently named Food Network's Chopped Champion and continues to host pop-up dinners all over New York City. Despite her busy schedule, Adriana sat down with Counter Service to talk about her roots and how she uses her success to pay it forward.
CS: What is your background in food? How did you learn to cook?
AU: I started working before studying because I really wanted to make sure that I wanted to pursue cooking as a career. So I started working at a restaurant in Venezuela for a year and I loved it, After that I decided to pursue my studies in a culinary institute in Caracas, saved some money and went to Paris and study for a couple of month in Le Colé of Alain Ducasse which was a great experience, then I went to Spain and worked at Martin Berasategui and Mugaritz were I learn mostly everything that I know. My plan was always go back to Venezuela and start my own project there, I try but the political situation got very complicated so I decided to move to NYC where I worked in Rouge Tomate, Atera, Comodo NYC, among others. Being able to travel and work for different chefs all around the world, made me discover my own style of cooking. I learned lots of new techniques, but mostly Importantly I learned that the most precious thing that I have as a person is my heritage and as cook I felt the urge to cook
Does anyone else in your family cook?
Yes!! My dad loves to cook, (he is not a chef but he is very creative) and of course my grandma cooks delicious food. But my family is all about food and eating.
Can you give some background on how you grew up in Venezuela versus the crisis happening there today?
Growing up in Venezuela was wonderful, I was surrounded by amazing weather, people and very fresh produce, on the other hand classes would be cancelled because students were marching and we would leave the school and go into the highway that connected to the university and march. Young people became aware of political decisions that were affecting the students. The Venezuelan media for the first time in its history was censored by the government so information did not circulate freely within and out of the country. Social media became one of the main outlets and tools that organizations like Students for Venezuela used to help give the people of Venezuela a voice internationally. From that point this started to get worst and worst, regarding scarcity of basic products and security due to the political and economical situation. I never wanted to leave I never imagined myself living anywhere else than Venezuela. I left with the idea of always going back.
But don’t get me wrong! I love living in NYC I appreciate every single moment and all the opportunities that I’ve had along the way. That’s why it is so important for me to help in any way I can and keep spreading the word of what is happening and try to showcase our gastronomy the best way I can. That’s how “Tepuy dining” was born.
How did it get to this point? Why is food scarce?
Shortages in Venezuela have been prevalent thanks to the price controls and other policies during Hugo Chávez’s previous government. Under the now president Nicolás Maduro, greater shortages are happening due to the Venezuelan government's policy of withholding United States dollars from importers with price controls, among other huge financial crisis that our country is going through.
Shortages occur in regulated products, such as milk, various types of meat, chicken, coffee, rice, oil, precooked flour, butter; and also basic necessities like toilet paper, personal hygiene products and medicine. As a result of the shortages, Venezuelans must search for food, occasionally resorting to eating wild fruit or garbage, wait in lines for hours and sometimes settle without getting those basic necessities.
Can you give some information about how you're helping feed school children in Venezuela? Is there an organization you are working with?
I’m really grateful to have had the opportunity to work with others to help and support nonprofit initiatives. I have so much admiration for them because I know that all of the work that they do involved many hours of dedication and late nights to being able to take food and medicine to Venezuela.
I started researching and found this amazing foundation called “Accion humanitaria por Venezuela” food to underprivileged kids. We decided to partner up and with child in Venezuela.
What does the future hold for your country? For you?
A lot of doors are opening for me at the moment, I’m trying to lay everything on the table and make the best the decision. In the meantime, I’m still doing pop up dinners in NYC I will cooking in Miami, Chicago, Boston and DC, so I’m very excited about that!! Some TV projects may evolve too! And my ultimate goal is to open my own restaurant and keep helping Latin-American communities specially Venezuela.