Trina Bardusco, Habla!

ArticleChris Yong-GarciaComment

Once again, our nostalgia for special moments from the past led us to travel back in time and learn the story behind the recipe of one of our favorite dishes. It is a special recipe, coming from a very special person.

This recipe takes us to Venice (Italy), California and even Caracas, finally ending up on New York’s Lower East Side. Our destination is where our host, Trina Bardusco, will open her home to us and tell us the story of her “Coconut Risotto”—an homage to her grandmother, Caterina, who taught her how to cook Italian food that Trina later “tropicalized” into her own style.

To be precise, our “Coconut Risotto” story, or rather Trina’s story, began in Switzerland—where her parents (1970’s hippies) met. During their travels they stopped in Caracas, Venezuela to visit the Venetian/Venezuelan side of the family, and then passed through San Francisco where Trina was born. When Trina was 9 months old the family moved to Caracas, where she lived until the age of 19, then returning to the United States.

“My mom came to Venezuela at very young age, my parents got divorced and my Italian grandmother (my dad’s mother), my “gringa” mom and my brother ended up living in the same house . . . it was hilarious, because both my mother and my grandmother spoke very bad Spanish. . . . But somehow they understood each other so well! I think perhaps because both were foreigners living in a place far from ‘home.’”

During her studies at Hunter College in New York, Trina discovered the “Teoría y juego del duende”- an essay by Federico Garcia Lorca- that changed her life, and inspired her to find her own “duende”. Soon afterwards, Trina’s friendship with the legendary photographer Gilles Larrain provided a personal introduction into the fascinating and exclusive world of Flamenco in Seville, Spain. In Seville, she met the famous Paco Lira and had the opportunity to be a guest at “La Carbonería”, one of Flamenco’s most sacred places. Staying there allowed her unprecedented access to valuable material for her future documentaries on the Flamenco world, as well as to re-connect with one of her past passions: dance.

Upon her return to New York, she felt that something was still missing and that she had more to say creatively:

“The TV series ‘Habla’ started when Alberto Ferreras and I worked at HBO Latino. We felt that Latinos on TV did not express themselves authentically; on television they used a lot of the so-called “neutral Spanish”. We decided to visit different cities such as Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and Texas in search of the ‘corazoncito’ of each place we visited, and we learned about the specific cultures of Latinos who live here in the U.S.! ...We invented a new format…. the spirit of the series ‘Habla’ shined a light on the different ways that Latinos here speak, this added to our appreciation of where we came from.”

Perhaps it was her personal warmth, combined with her constant and dedicated exploration of Latino cultural roots, which made Trina’s apartment so welcoming on Sunday night.

Sharing a delicious “Coconut Risotto," such a rich mixture of continents and ingredients, while hanging out with good friends, was the perfect tribute to a super cool abuela.

Trina's Recipe for Coconut Risotto

Photos by Juan Ayora.