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Sofrito

Book Riot
"Frank Delgado’s parents fled Cuba after the Revolution, so when Frank has to make an unexpected trip to his parents’ homeland, he’s not really prepared. What brings him to Cuba? Oh, no biggie — just stealing a recipe that is a closely guarded state secret … "
Frank Delgado’s parents fled Cuba after the Revolution, so when Frank has to make an unexpected trip to his parents’ homeland, he’s not really prepared. What brings him to Cuba? Oh, no biggie — just stealing a recipe that is a closely guarded state secret so that he can bring it back to America to save his failing restaurant. But wait — that legendary chicken recipe belonged to his family first. So it’s not so much stealing as reclaiming. Still dangerous, though: Cuba isn’t ready to give up his birthright.
Frank finds Cuba to be more of an adventure than he expected, but other than almost being killed once or twice, it’s not all bad. He falls in love with a woman and with Cuba . . . but does he get the recipe?! *biting nails*
- Susie Rodarme, August 10, 2015  Visit Website
Tampa Bay Times
"Just before Cuba busts open and its complicated essence is diluted by un montón de turistas, Phillippe Diederich’s debut novel gives us an immersion complete with sights, sounds and — maybe most importantly — tastes. Food and travel go together, both with the power to edify, transport and even haunt. 'Sofrito' does all three."
Just before Cuba busts open and its complicated essence is diluted by un montón de turistas, Phillippe Diederich’s debut novel gives us an immersion complete with sights, sounds and — maybe most importantly — tastes. Food and travel go together, both with the power to edify, transport and even haunt. “Sofrito” does all three.
Middle-aged New York restaurateur Frank Delgado is sleep-walking through his life, a fact that must be apparent even to even the most casual customer of Maduros, on the Upper East Side. Business is dead, debts are mounting.
His mother, a vehemently anti-Castro Cuban expat, plants the seed when she describes a fabled Havana chicken dish from her youth.
“Dios mio, it is difficult to describe. It was delicious, of course, but it was more than that. It tasted earthy … a little bitter. And sweet … like when there is a storm and the sea is raging against the Malecón. ... That chicken tasted just like Cuba.”
And thus is our introduction to the poultry that launched a thousand ships. Frank goes to Cuba to steal the recipe, strictly government property. It’s a risky endeavor complete with unscrupulous Cuban MININT agents, torture and extortion, prostitutes and sweaty mojitos, and, finally, one complicated chicken recipe, part of it written in code on Frank’s shoe insole.
Diederich, who received his MFA from the University of South Florida, was born in the Dominican Republic, his parents kicked out of Haiti by the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier. Yet he writes eloquently about what it is to be Cuban, and about the heartbreak and rootlessness that can dog a Cuban expat. Food is metaphor: the secret ingredient in the chicken rub? Naranja agria, bitter orange, “the most Cuban of Cuban ingredients,” something that is simultaneously sweet and bitter.
In searching for the recipe, Frank unearths his dead father’s past, a secret history filled with revolutionary acts and a once-fervent conviction in Fidel Castro’s ability to change the small island country’s direction. Did his father keep his past a secret, or did Frank and his brother fail to ask the right questions?
It’s a nearly universal father-son lament. Grappling with his father’s past, Frank “loved his father, but he had never respected him because he had wanted more from him. But it had been there all along. If only they had talked.”
Non-Spanish speakers will likely wear out a phrase book reading the short novel — Spanish vocabulary, especially of the blue variety, is liberally peppered throughout Sofrito. It serves to deepen the exotic stew, much in the way a sofrito (onion, garlic and green pepper, the holy trinity of Cuban food) amplifies the flavors in a dish. I would say, however, that the quotes used as chapter openers, a compendium of random references to Cuban food, don’t advance the story and serve mostly as head-scratching non sequiturs.
That said, Frank’s triumphant return from Cuba and his family restaurant’s transformation into the less stodgy, more Cuban Sofrito is a lively romp. Why did the chicken recipe cross the border? So Frank could get to the other side. And I’ll be stalking Diederich in October at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading to see if I can get a crack at that recipe.
- Laura Reiley, September 30, 2015  Visit Website
Latinopia
The language, nuance and settings ring true and give insight into a world not known by many Americans. Using the metaphor of the sauce essential to all Cuban cooking, Frank Delgado’s journey is a search of his personal sofrito, the personal foundation needed to understand his life and identity as a Cuban American.
Phillippe Diederich’s debut novel, “Sofrito,” is a splendid allegory of the Cuban experiences both on the island and in the United States. Part Bildungsroman, part mystery, it is also an exploration of the history, homeland and identity shared by many Latino Americans from all backgrounds.
The book derives its title from the garlic, onion tomato and cilantro based sauce used in Cuban cooking, “the mother sauce of our food, All Cuban cooking must begin with a good sofrito.”
In the novel, Frank Delgado and his brother Pepe, along with a family friend Justo, have opened a restaurant in New York’s upper Eastside. The restaurant, Maduros, is at first successful for its acclaimed Cuban food, but five years later the restaurant is on the verge of bankruptcy.The only thing that may save them is a unique recipe concocted generations ago by Frank and Pepe’s grandfather who owned one of the premiere restaurants in pre-Revolutionary Cuba. Frank takes it on himself to travel to his natal land and try to secure the mythical recipe. What appears at first as a preposterous premise–searching for a culinary holy grail in the land of Fidel–becomes the convincing vehicle for one man’s quest for his past and discovery of a new identity.
In the course of visiting family relations in Cuba in hopes of tracking down the elusive recipe, Frank discovers unsettling truths about his father’s past. These revelations transform his understanding of who his father really was and what role he may or may not have played in the Cuban Revolution. During his stay in Cuba Frank falls in love with a Cuban jinetera (escort) who is used to accompanying wealthy foreigners. What begins as a one-night stand soon develops into a full blown romance as Frank’s entire life is turned topsy-turvy. All that he believed in is suddenly thrown into question. In the course of Frank’s quest and machinations to secure the secret and well guarded recipe, Frank finds himself doings things he never thought he would or could. He discovers a new Frank he never knew existed.
Author Diederich is Haitian. He was raised in Mexico City and South Florida. With many years as a photojournalist in Cuban, he makes good use of his knowledge of the streets and neighborhoods of Havana to explore the Cuba of the islanders as well as Cuba seen through the eyes of an estranged prodigal son. The language, nuance and settings ring true and give insight into a world not known by many Americans. Using the metaphor of the sauce essential to all Cuban cooking, Frank Delgado’s journey is a search of his personal sofrito, the personal foundation needed to understand his life and identity as a Cuban American. Food epigraphs in each chapter underscore the importance of food as a unifying cultural experience for all Cubans and for that matter all Latin Americans.
The story of one Cuban American’s quest for his past and identity is so well wrought and universal as to be emblematic of the quest by many Latin Americans to understand their past, present and future in the United States. As such, the allegory of a recipe for the ideal meal become a metaphor for the quest for total understanding of the self. Sofrito ends where the story began, back at the Maduros restaurant, but with a transformed Frank who is now ready to undertake what some readers hope will be a sequel to the novel.
- Jesus Salvador Trevino, October 11, 2015  Visit Website
Midwest Book Review
Exceptionally well-written and all the more impressive considering that “Sofrito” is Haitian American writer and photojournalist Phillipe Diederich’s debut as a novelist. Certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library general fiction collections …
Frank Delgado is no thief. He co-owns a failing Cuban restaurant in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The restaurant, like Frank, is rudderless. Lost. He decides he’ll save the restaurant by traveling to Cuba to steal the legendary chicken recipe from the famed El Ajillo restaurant in Havana. The recipe is a state secret, so prized that no cook knows the whole recipe. But Frank’s rationale is ironclad — Fidel stole the secret from his family, so he will steal it back. He will triumphantly bring that recipe back to Manhattan and turn his fortunes around. Frank has no interest in Cuba. His parents fled after the Revolution. His dead father spent his life erasing all traces of Cuba from his heart with barbecues, television, lawn mowing and alcohol. So Frank is not prepared for the real Cuba. Sure, he gets beat up and almost killed, the secret service threatens him, but in the midst of the chaos, he falls in love with a prostitute and the city, and he unwraps the heroic story of his parents’ life. Cuba begins to bind Frank together, the way a good sofrito binds the flavors of a Cuban dish.

Critic: Exceptionally well-written and all the more impressive considering that “Sofrito” is Haitian American writer and photojournalist Phillipe Diederich’s debut as a novelist. Certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library general fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “Sofrito” is also available in a Kindle edition.
- Midwest Book Review , November 15, 2015  Visit Website
Reviews
"Sofrito has the sweaty seduction of Havana's streets and the warm spirit of its food."
- Mark Kurlansky, author of Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, August 1, 2015 
“… There is more than delicious chicken at stake here. Food is the road home—geographically, emotionally, metaphorically. Peppered with cooking advice from chefs, ordinary folks, and celebrities including Fidel Castro himself (an advocate of pork), Phillipe Diederich’s Sofrito is a love letter to the deepest recesses of nostalgia’s heart."
- Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban and King of Cuba, August 17, 2015 
"A moveable feast full of folkloric flavors, comical rhythms and magic. One man's quest for the perfect spice leads him towards love for a woman and for his lost Cuba. In heaven, I know Oscar Hijuelos is smiling."
- Ernesto Quiñones, author of Bodega Dreams and Chango's Fire, September 4, 2015 
US News
US News Invites You to “Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month on a Budget” by reading “Sofrito.”
6 Ways to Celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month on a Budget

It's time to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. Through October 15, Americans acknowledge and honor the contributions of the Hispanic community and pay homage to their ancestral ties. Consider celebrating this year on a budget. Here are some tips to do so.

1. Reading is a low-cost way to learn about a time in history.

The newly released book "Sofrito" highlights the main character's struggles with the loss of his heritage and homeland after his family left Cuba in the late 1950s. The main character, Frank Delgado, calls New York home but later returns to Cuba for an authentic recipe to save his restaurant business. When he returns from his trip, he feels reconnected to his roots and unknowingly fills a void he never knew he had.

"The search for home is a subconscious one. Frank never knew he lacked something," explains author Phillippe Diederich. He also points out that while the main character is in search of the authentic sofrito recipe in the story, he goes through a transition of understanding his family and also understanding himself.

If you're more interested in reading about artists, check out free books at the library about famous ones like Pablo Picasso. Reading about the lives of others is not only interesting but inspiring. For roughly $6 or less, you can read "The Who Was Series," which I did with my daughter. It's very engaging and weaves in mini-history lessons throughout the book.

We discovered that Picasso pushed frugality to new heights. Living the life of a starving artist meant not only sharing a place with a roommate but sharing a bed. This is what Picasso and a fellow artist did to make it in the art world. They worked opposite shifts to share a single person's living space to make life affordable.

Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist, is also featured in the series. She is known for her amazing self-portraits and vibrant paintings that often capture the lives of the indigenous Mexican culture. There are multiple books written about her for both children and adults.

2. Take a free virtual tour.

Learning about art, culture and other interesting information doesn't have to only be in book form. Check out the virtual museum on Smithsonian Latino Center's website for free. Take an online tour to see different artwork, music and other contributions by Latinos.

Scroll over the colorful online map to explore what the website has to offer. Click on simulations, experience mobile broadcasts from author and artist Sandra Cisneros or even catch a podcast about the Latino Experience in American Art.

3. Enjoy what's unique about your heritage.

Jessica Galan, a social studies teacher of Puerto Rican descent, suggests taking time to reach out to relatives and ask about customs and traditions from the past. Cook together or learn traditional dances from your native country. If your family lives far away, chatting via Skype or Google Hangout doesn't have to cost you a dime to reconnect.

4. Honor famous baseball players.

If you're a baseball fan, learn about players from different Spanish-speaking countries. Discover facts about the players just by searching online for free. Dominican native David Ortiz of the Red Sox recently became a member of the 500 Club after hitting his 500th home run on Saturday, September 12.

Many others have made names for themselves on the field, including Roberto Clemente, Felipe Alou and Pedro Martinez. Take a tour of a baseball stadium where some of these players have ran the bases. Many baseball stadium offer year round tours to the public. Tours at Fenway for an adult can cost $20 for an adult and $12 for children.

Growing up as an immigrant from Puerto Rico, AutoCAD operator Alfredo Cruz of remembers looking up to Roberto Clemente. "He was an example to live by, not only as a person from my homeland or a baseball player, but as a kind human being." Cruz recounts his charitable efforts and how he gave his life to what he believed in by helping the less fortunate.

Have someone in your family write down a bunch of facts about each person you wish to learn more about. Each day, pull one fact out a hat to share with your family. This is a fun, free way to learn about the contributions of others in the Hispanic community in America.

5. Personal finance is personal.

Get a dose of personal finance know-how from a mainstream media personality and author of Dominican descent, Carmen Rita Wong. Check out her book, "The Real Cost of Living." Understanding what things truly cost can be eye-opening, but handling money isn't only about dollars and cents. The author believes that money shouldn't be the only driving force when it comes to making life decisions both big and small. She highlights examples throughout her book and includes details about her own life as the eldest child. Look for her new money book and novel in 2016.

6. Try cooking an authentic dish.

If you've never made an authentic dish from your heritage or you'd just like to try something you've never made before, ask a relative to show you how. Cooking can be a low cost way to reconnect to your roots. Daisy Martinez is a chef, TV personality and author of Puerto Rican descent. She shares her love of Latin cuisine in her cookbooks, which can give you recipe ideas.

However you choose to celebrate the month, there are plenty of options for frugal fun.
- Karen Cordaway, October 6, 2015  Visit Website

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