Updated: Jun 24, 2020
From the Iroquois White Corn Project to My Venezuelan Kitchen, the non GMO ancient variety of corn connects Mercedes Golip’s gastronomic traditions with her journey as an immigrant in the US.
Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes Golip
“Food is emotional, it connects us to our childhood and culture. It makes us less scared of insecurity.”
Mercedes Golip grew up in Caracas and left Venezuela in 2006 to move to the United States. Mercedes, who is self taught, quickly embarked on a gastronomic exploration through her origins and traditions, to fight homesickness. She demonstrates her commitment to sustainability in many ways, including the sourcing of her products. One of the challenges she faced, as most immigrant Chefs do, was to express the flavors of her country by sourcing responsibly and locally. Instead of using imported ingredients, she seeks out foods that are grown in the state. After a lot of research, she was inspired by local producers and the amazing food they grow, especially the Iroquois White Corn Project. This Native American-led farming project in western New York farms and sells a 1,500-year-old strain of corn that Golip uses to make her flour to cook arepas and tamales. By supporting this project, she contributes to restore the environmentally responsible agricultural practices of the traditional Iroquois White Corn, and she supports the Native American communities by offering their products to the community at large.
Even though Mercedes does not claim to make the best Venezuelan cuisine, her culinary excellence is transmitted through a quality selection of ingredients. Her cuisine represents the expression of a new cuisine whose foundations are the classic Venezuelan traditions and has been reinvented and influenced by the context of other cuisines. Through this highly driven project called My Venezuelan kitchen, she spreads the word about the food she loves through cooking classes, pop-up dinners, and various consulting missions.
Welcome Mercedes to Chefs for Impact!
By Mercedes Golip as told to Chefs for Impact
What brought you to be a Chef in New York?
“It definitely has been a journey. I’m from Venezuela and both my husband and I decided to move to the US for work in 2006. We are both working in the advertising industry, so it seemed to be the marketplace to be. My side passion project has always been food. As I arrived, I started thinking about the food I had grown up with. Soon I realized that I had to adapt the recipes to the context and to my new life experience as an immigrant in this country. When you move to another country, it’s like a tradeoff; you come with your background and you absorb everything in the context you are in. That’s the beauty of NYC: being exposed to everywhere in the world within the same place. This has been a powerful inspiration allowing me to look at my food from a different angle. That’s the reason I started teaching cooking classes and hosting pop-up dinners, in order to share my Venezuelan culinary traditions.”
What are the challenges you encountered as you were sourcing the ingredients?
“I started to source ingredients differently and locally. The first thing I did was join a CSA and everything I cooked at home was from a local farm in Long Island. As I started to source corn, I immediately realized it would be a real challenge to find the quality that I was expecting. In the US, corn is dominated by agribusiness and it’s also mostly used to feed animals, or to create chemical products. There are very few types of corn that you can find here, and they are hybrid or GMO. But I didn’t stop there. I kept on looking until I found a native American-led farming project in western New York called The Iroquois White Corn project that sells an ancient variety of corn. I continued my corn exploration by experimenting and making traditional arepas and tamales with the flour I made from this corn. It was a premiere for me. I’ve always cooked my arepas from flour that comes from a package. I wanted to try to bring that kind of values and knowledge back to my generation who wasn’t exposed to that food culture. I did a lot of research and I learnt so much in the past 4 years. Today, I’m working towards keeping this tradition alive. I’m not pretending I make better arepas; I would say I’m making them differently by creating a different vision on a traditional dish.”
Iroquis_Corn_Arepas_Photo by: Patrick_Dolande
What are your tips to be more sustainable?
"Besides the obvious “support the local economy, try to be less wasteful in the kitchen as possible, use food scraps, and get to know your farmer”, I would say: grow your own food as much as you can.
Since covid-19, I’ve been trying to inspire people to do so, even if it is just growing herbs by your window. It’s really a practice that helps the planet and allows you to gain some freedom, as opposed to the industrial food system. You will save some money too! You will see all the work that it takes to grow a single vegetable from the seed, and you will learn to value the work of farmers. You will also realize the amount of energy and water used to grow a single tomato. I feel that in your mind you become less wasteful and you value things in a different way. Everyone can have an impact at their own level.”
What kind of vegetables are you growing?
“I have a shared garden with my neighbor in Astoria, where I was able to grow corn for the first time. I was also able to grow tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, and cucumbers. I’m aware it’s a luxury to be able to grow a garden in New York City. But you can still find a space in a community garden, or even growing herbs at a window is a good start.”
Photo: Courtesy of Mercedes Golip
What do you hope is next for My Venezuelan Kitchen?
“After this crisis, I probably won’t be able to resume the pop-up dinners, so I would like to use this time to educate myself on how everything is going to work, as well as the precautions we will need to take in order to have a safe experience for everyone. I would like to go further in the education path and create a program that inspires people. The reality for all immigrants is that our food will never be the same. My goal is for immigrants to look at their food from a different angle, with ingredients that are sourced locally. This would be a successful scenario for my project.”
Learn more about My Venezuelan kitchen: https://iambananista.com/About
Learn more about The Iroquois white corn project: https://ganondagan.org/whitecorn/about