OUR CHEF

 

Maricel E. Presilla is an award-winning author, chef, and restaurateur who is widely 

recognized as the nation’s pre-eminent expert on Latin and Caribbean cuisine. In 2013, her magnum opus, Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America, was honored as Cookbook of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and Best General Cookbook by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. She was named the Beard Foundation’s Best Chef-Mid Atlantic region in 2012 for her work at Cucharamama, and  was inducted into the prestigious Beard Foundation cadre of outstanding US food professionals  Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America in 2015. 

 

Presilla’s culinary curiosity and sensibilities were shaped by her childhood in Santiago 

de Cuba, a 500-year-old city on Cuba’s southeastern coast, where French, Haitian, as 

well as Spanish and African influences combined to create one of the island nation’s 

most eclectic cultures. Holidays spent on a family farm in the foothills of the Sierra 

Maestra mountains planted the seeds of her lifelong love of horticulture. 

 

Seeking freedom from Cuba’s repressive communist regime, Presilla and her family  

emigrated to Miami, where she completed her undergraduate studies  at Miami-Dade College and Florida International University. She studied medieval Spanish history at Spain’s University of Valladolid, and continued her academic path at New York University, where she earned a Ph.D. in medieval Spanish history. She has taught medieval history at New York University and Rutgers University, where she created courses in culinary history. Trained in cultural anthropology, she has pursued major research in agriculture with emphasis on tropical crops such as cacao and vanilla.Presilla’s professional culinary training began under the late Peruvian-born chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi at his New York restaurant The Ballroom, the first tapas bar in the United States.  She considers Rojas-Lombardi her most important mentor, and credits him with starting her on the path that led her into the restaurant business. She is the chef and co-owner, with business partner Clara Chaumont, of the pan-Latin Zafra and the South American Cucharamama restaurants as well as the gourmet shop and bakery Ultramarinos, all in Hoboken, N.J. She was the first Latin American woman to win the Best Chef-Mid-Atlantic award when the Beard Foundation honored her for her work at Cucharamama. She achieved another first for Latin women in 2009 as a White House guest chef for a lavish Hispanic Heritage Month reception.

 

In addition to Gran Cocina Latina (W.W. Norton, 2012), which explores the cuisines of 

twenty Latin American countries, Presilla’s books included The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (Ten Speed, 2000; revised and reissued, 2009) and an illustrated series on the indigenous cultures and cuisines of Latin America for Henry Holt.

 

Presilla has been nominated for Beard Foundation journalism awards for her work in 

Saveur magazine, where she is a contributing editor, and The Miami Herald, where she became a columnist in 2003.  She and her recipes have been featured in major 

newspapers including The New York Times and magazines including Gourmet, Food & Wine, and Food Arts, which honored her with its Silver Spoon award in 2009.

Presilla is the president of Gran Cacao, which specializes in heirloom cocoa beans, and has worked as consultant for companies including Venezuela’s Chocolates El Rey, 

which she helped introduce to the U.S. market. She is a board member of the Fine 

Chocolate Industry Association, a founding member and trustee of Direct Cacao, and 

the Americas partner of the International Chocolate Awards, the world’s largest 

independent chocolate competition. She serves on the advisory committee for the 

Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio Campus, which specializes in Latin cuisines, and was honored to serve as a commencement speaker in 2014 at the school’s Hyde Park, N.Y., campus.

 

She makes her home in Weehawken, N.J. and divides her time among her New Jersey 

restaurants, Miami, and Latin America.