A Miami native who specializes in Cuban cuisine, Ana Quincoces recently appeared on the popular show Food Network Star. A lawyer-turned-chef, she introduced the culinary community to her Skinny Latina™ line with the launch of her multi-use Million Dollar Marinade. A former “Real Housewife of Miami,” Quincoces also authored three cookbooks: Cu ban Chicks Can Cook, Sabor: A Passion For Cuban Cuisine and Versailles Restaurant Cookbook. In this feature, Quincoces, who has two adult daughters, discusses her childhood, her love of Cuban food and culture, and, of course, motherhood.
You grew up in Miami. What was your childhood like?
My childhood was typical of most children whose parents emigrated from Cuba in the early 60’s. We were close knit and food was the glue that kept us together. My mother is an amazing cook and with her Cuban food she told a story; a nostalgic story of an idyllic life in a pre-Castro Cuba. Her food always spoke to me. My childhood home was where everything was celebrated. At home, we spoke mostly Spanish although both my parents spoke English. My dad spoke it perfectly, my mom’s English was a little broken. However, with her broken English she managed to obtain a college degree while working and taking care of my brother and me. It was a happy childhood; I’m proud of my parents and am in awe of everything they endured so that my brother and I would have a better life.
What was the best advice you ever received from your parents?
The best career advice always came from my dad. My mom wanted me to be a teacher; she often complained that I was too ambitious and wanted to do too many things. My dad relished in my resolve and encouraged me constantly. In the most cliché way possible, he told me I could do anything I set my mind to. The thing is that when he said it, I believed him. I could take my dad’s words to the bank.
You greatly enjoy cooking with daughters Kati (25) and Beba (24). [Their father is Quincoces’s ex Robert Rodriguez] Why should parents cook with their children, and how has cooking together bonded you?
When Kati, Beba, and I are in a kitchen together it’s like a well-choreographed dance. We each have a role and we know it well. When I cook I like to plan everything from the cocktail to the desserts (several of them). Cooking together is the most fun thing we do together. We learn so much from each other and the conversations run the gamut. Cooking brings us together as a family. I think cooking with your kids is not only fun, but helps your kids become more adventurous eaters because they see ingredients in their raw state and have a role in transforming them. Kids love that.
Moms today struggle (bigtime!) with the work/life balance. What advice do you have for mompreneurs who try to “do it all”?
I would tell them to “fake it until they make it.” The pressure of having it all is something we, as women, torture ourselves with. I believe you can have it all, just not all at the same time. And that is perfectly ok.
There’s a joke that college students are lazy, only eat Ramen, and hate cooking! When in college, were your daughters the best chefs on campus, because you are their mom?
My home is near the University of Miami where my girls went to school. It was Grand Central for all those poor dorm rats looking for a home cooked meal! I have a great rapport with college students and have taught many of my daughter’s friends to cook simple things. They absolutely love cooking, they just often have no clue where to begin. One of my daughter’s friends even uses my Skinny Latina marinade in his Ramen!
What messages about love and life have your daughters taught you?
I’m sure that most moms experienced true love the first moment they held their child. I remember my heart expanding to a million times its regular size. I understood for the first time that my capacity to love was limitless. Since that day, I have grown to love my daughters more than I thought humanly possible, but I grew to respect them for their strength, their perseverance, their work ethic and their beautiful hearts. My daughters have done me proud and I am so very blessed to have had the privilege to raise two such extraordinary women.
What’s your favorite Cuban dish to make with—or for—your daughters?
I would have to say arroz con pollo: Cuban-style chicken and rice, avocado salad, tostones, maduros, flan, and a cortadito, of course.
What makes Cuban cuisine in general so tasty and zesty?
A little known fact about Cuban food is that there is no heat in Cuban cooking. But there are layers and layers of flavor that usually start with our “sofrito” made with the holy trinity of Cuban cooking (garlic, bell pepper, and onion). Cuban cooking also embodies great textures and the right amount of acidity. It’s very balanced and very easy to make comfort food. And best of all, it’s usually better the next day.
Can you tell us what’s new and exciting from The Skinny Latina line?
Skinny Latina is expanding its line and will launch a Guava Fig BBQ Sauce, A Mango Apricot BBQ Sauce, and 3 new table-friendly Latin inspired hot sauces in the next month.
What’s “cooking” for you, career-wise, this fall?
A new book, a new dry spice line, and a couple of top secret projects! Stay tuned!