Reina Gascón-López shares her love of Afro-Caribbean cuisine with the Sofrito Project
The blog, created while in culinary school, is an exploration of traditional Puerto Rican cuisine and its connections to Southern cooking.
It’s no secret that Caribbean and Southern cuisine are heavily influenced by each other.
Recipes such as okra soup, stewed ham hocks with beans, and seafood stew all have notes of African and Southern heritage. These recipes are also often made in the Caribbean and the Southern states of America.
Reina Gascón-López, known as the “Southern Boricua,” is the founder of The Sofrito Project, a food blog she created in 2017. Her mission is to show the similarities of Puerto Rican and Southern cuisine by making her own one-of-a-kind recipes.
“I wanted to share my food with everybody so when it first started, I decided to go to culinary school and I wanted to document everything that I was learning and post pictures,” Gascón-López said in a recent interview with AL DÍA News.
Gascón-López was born in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, but moved to Charleston, South Carolina, when her father was stationed there in the Navy. There, the Puerto Rican community was small, and her family didn’t have access to typical Puerto Rican food staples, such as yuca and plantains.
“We just try to make it work whenever we didn't have an ingredient,” she said.
Right before Gascón-López started her blog, she began to research the similarities between Southern and Puerto Rican cuisine. She believed typical Southern dishes were very similar to the food she ate growing up in Puerto Rico.
“The more research I started doing about southern cuisine the more similarities there are with Puerto Rican food, we are all connected with food,” said Gascón-Lopez.
The research inspired her to apply at the Culinary Institute of Charleston. At that time, she also created her blog, the Sofrito Project.
She started her blog posting recipes to show off her cooking skills to family and friends. It soon became a success, and showcased authentic Puerto Rican recipes, such as sofrito, carne frita y cebollas, and bacalaitos.
However, she also wanted to highlight the similarities between Southern and Puerto Rican food.
For example, one traditional staple in Puerto Rico called, quimbombo guisado, is okra stew in South Carolina. The Southern version is a food staple of the Gullah Geechee community, an African-American population who live in the Lowcountry and the Sea Islands of South Carolina.
“I would go to friends' houses and they would ask me if I wanted stewed okra, it tasted really good but it wasn't really how we make it. But its cool to see the similarities,” she said.
Gascón-López also spoke to AL DÍA about her disapproval of the lack of Latinx and women chefs in the media and its effects.
Just recently, a video of British chef Gordon Ramsay making pegao, which is a traditional crunchy rice dish, caused major backlash.
“It is frustrating because there are many talented chefs and cooks that are out there that can do the pegao correctly,” she said.
Gascón-López believes that Ramsay should have collaborated or invited another chef of Puerto Rican descent to make pegao the right way.
“We see it so often in the culinary world where white chefs will go on the show and not use their access or privilege to highlight anybody else,” said Gascón-López.
Nonetheless, she is still creating her own brand and has many projects in the works.
“I want to get into video,” she said. “I started a Patreon page and I want to share exclusive recipes and content.”
Gascón-López is also planning to publish her own cookbook in the near future.
“That is definitely a plan of mine,” said Gascón-López. “I want to just ride it out and see what happens.”
Check out her website for more information.