Monday, January 29, 2007

Pupusas in El Salvador

We Nicaraguans think that gallo pinto, a mixture of rice and beans, is the world's most perfect food. But we found the second best when we visited El Salvador......pupusas!

Pupusas are thick tortilla MADE BY HAND (very important!), then filled with beans or meat with potatoes and other good fillings. We did more than just eat pupusas....we learned to make them.

When we visited a women's shrimp collective in Jiquilisco, we met a woman who was making pupusas. When she heard that we were learning to be chefs, she gave us a pupusa lesson. Check out our photos.

That-s Oscar, Orlando, Papini and Juan Carlos flipping those delicacies from hand to hand. We are going to serve them in our new CafeChavalos when we open our restaurant. So bring your appetites and we may even give you a pupusa lesson too!

Chavalos Get a Taste of the U.S.

None of us had ever been out of our country before we were invited to visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the U.S. Even an invitation from Tom Murphy, then the Mayor of Pittsburgh, asked us meet with him in his City Hall chambers when we arrived.

We canvassed all the sights during in two weeks.....from the Museum of Natural History, to the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Carnegie Science Museum, and the University of Pittsburgh campus. But we also made ourselves known to a Rotary group, high school students in their Spanish classes, and on a Carnegie Mellon University radio program. It was an unbelievable, unforgettable experience!

Because we are chef students, we toured the Culinary Institute of Pittsburgh which we discovered to be...well.... slightly larger than our CafeChavalos. They have over 100 students there. We had 8 at the time.

Then there was a whole day at Whole Foods! What a supermarket fantasyland!

Then we did what we do best! ...We prepared a delicious buffet for many people who wanted to meet us. We served our famous gallo pinto along with chicken filet with salsa Azteca. Juan Carlos let us help him make his famous Peach Pan Bread for dessert (He's very particular about that so being able to help him was a very special moment!) We were a big hit!

The Pittsburgh organization that helps to support CafeChavalos , Building New Hope, sponsored us and arranged for the great time that we experienced.

Next we would like to go to the Bronx.

Chavalos visit Culinary Institute of Pittsburgh

Orlando and Oscar perform a Nicaraguan folkloric dance for a Pittsburgh middle school

Chef Chuck at Whole Foods tosses his famous salad for the Chavalos

Kim Wynnyckyj is the Whole Foods Marketing Director. She is definitely cool! But we couldn't talk her into getting tattoos like ours.

We're on the Ohio River at the Carnegie Science Center. We don't see many submarines in Nicaragua!

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nicaraguan restaurant doubles as cooking school for poor teens

Sunday, January 25, 2004
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

GRANADA, Nicaragua -- Cafe Chavalos is just the thing for the indecisive diner. Each night it is open, Tuesday through Friday, patrons get whatever the staff has prepared. It is a four- or five-course meal that changes from night to night.

This cozy, colorful 4-month-old restaurant in the oldest of American cities is unusual for another reason. It is a school, a cuisine workshop that gives teenagers who have been wayward or lacking in opportunities a career leg up.

Chavalos, which is slang in Spanish for "kids," sits like a colorful bird in a barrio of sluggish water, dirt-streaked children and tar-paper doorways. A couple from Colorado bought the property for $3,000 two years ago during a stay at the inn that sits around the corner. The inn is run by the inimitable Donna Tabor, who spent years as a television producer in Pittsburgh, but who has made a more indelible second career as a humanitarian in her adopted Granada, Nicaragua, where she served in the Peace Corps in the mid-'90s and has remained.

Supported by the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit Building New Hope, Tabor has networked to get critically ill children to the States for pro bono surgeries and frequent-flier miles donated to their families. She has secured medical supplies, equipment for a women's center, books and computers for schools and, two years ago, even started a school to supplement the half-day education of the country's public system. More than a dozen children attend. Along Lake Nicaragua, it adjoins the home of a woman who donated the property and includes a dormitory for children whose families are too poor to care for them.

The Colorado couple, like many guests at Tabor's inn, got hooked by her zeal and the chance for bite-sized opportunities to do good. Most recently, a young couple from Italy who stayed at the inn volunteered to create Cafe Chavalos' Web site. Others have prolonged vacations to help with school construction or to volunteer as teachers.

Cafe Chavalos opened last September, with Sergio Canudas as the resident chef and instructor. A native of Mexico, he is also the breakfast chef at Tabor's inn, Another Night in Paradise.

"We first thought of having a library in the space," said Tabor, "but decided on a job-training idea. It became a cafe so that we could use Sergio's expertise and talent for teaching."

The boys and young men in Chavalos' kitchen treat Canudas, who has two children of his own, with the adoration of sons. Already, three of the trainees have been hired as a team to work at a new guest house/restaurant.

Dinner is 95 cordobas, or roughly $7. Tips, not long familiar to Nicaraguans, are becoming more common, and the waiters, cooks and servers share them.

Granada has flourished in recent years with guest houses and restaurants as tourists discover its colonial charms, but too many of its children languish in the streets, filthy, uneducated and with little hope but to shine shoes and sell chewing gum for a living. Many families cannot afford to have their children in a classroom; they need them to bring in a few coins each day.

Tabor tapped Juan Carlos Mejia Valle to be one of the first three to leave the cafe's nest. As he anticipated the new job, he said, he had a pang, because the eight other chavalos "are my brothers, and Sergio is our father.

"Probably, I learned too quick."

He had been a student at the lakeside school, learning to speak and read English, when Tabor recruited him for the cafe. "He's as smart as a whip," she said.

Mejia, who says he's 20 (Tabor thinks he's a little younger), had 11 years of schooling but didn't graduate. "I was in a gang and I stopped going to school," he said. "When I was a kid, I wanted to learn English and be in international relations, but then I decided to be an architect. At the same time, I am interested in becoming a chef. In my own house, I used to cook."

One night at Cafe Chavalos, the menu included gazpacho, ceviche and the burritos that Canudas had made popular at several local restaurants.

Because of the tang and that little something that is every chef's secret, the ceviche -- raw fish salad "cooked" in a lime marinade and served cold with diced tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic and onion -- was obviously the work of a master chef.

"No no," Canudas said, waving his index finger. He beamed at the boy with slicked-back hair. "Moises made the ceviche."

Shy Moises Padilla, assistant-chef-in-training, pointed at another boy, but his face broke into a smile, and Tabor said, "He's probably the next one to go."


After a hiatus of two long years, CafeChavalos will be back on the dining scene in a few months. We have finally begun the process of purchasing a wonderful space to call our own. It is on the corner of Calles Martirio and Arsenal in the beautiful colonial town of Granada, Nicaragua.

We are working hard to pay the price. Cordoba by cordoba we have been able to pay the down payment. Now we must pay 4 equal payments throughout the year to actually own our restaurant!

The space is beautiful, and we intend to create another CafeChavalos that is as professional as well as "fun" as our original Cafe. But this time we will recruit more Chavalos to take part in our project.

We want our same philosophy to continue. Our new Chavalos will be older adolescents who have had difficulties in their lives....drugs, life on the street, gang relations....but now have a deep desire to head in a different, more positive direction. We in the CafeChavalos program have all had negative experiences and were heading down a road of destruction. We know the story. We saw where we were heading. We hope to build a new road for the new Chavalos to join us on a march toward successful lives.

It will all begin for them in the kitchen of CafeChavalos!