For Nina Arena cooking has always been a passion. She’s been in the kitchen since she was a little girl. Some of her earliest memories in the kitchen are her fondest.
“I’m the 2nd youngest of 7 siblings, first-generation Puerto Rican, Born in a New York Hospital in Manhattan NY, raised in the South Bronx and Spanish Harlem. As a kid, the age of 9 or so, was the 1st time my mother said you could start grading bananas, and yautias and folding pastelles. That was as far as I was allowed in the kitchen, besides doing the dishes,” said Arena with a smile.
Arena, who’s also the owner of the Facebook Group: Weepa Puerto Rican Food and More has been cooking for 35 years. She’s been making authentic Puerto Rican dishes as a caterer, home cook and neighborhood chef. Arena says she really got serious about Puerto Rican cuisine when she left New York with her soon to be husband.
“At the age of 18 I decided to move to Colorado I met my ex-husband and we started cohabitating and soon after I realized I wasn’t such a great cook. So I decided to fly back to NY for the Holidays for about 3 months. During this time, I watched my mother like a hawk, learning every cooking technique she had. I finally flew back to Colorado and immediately started cooking for the man I loved! So I cooked arroz con gandules, fried chicken, and macaroni salad. I think he fell in love with me because apparently, he proposed 2 weeks later. Go figure I’ve read somewhere recently to marry someone who knows how to cook because looks fade away, hunger doesn’t,” said Arena
On Sunday, Nina will bring her talents to the Hispanic Food Network to teach a free Puerto Rican Coquito Class. This classic PR drink is perfect to learn for the holidays. Arena will continue to provide classes for HFNTV throughout 2021.
Classic Coquito Recipe Ingredients
- 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
- 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups (1 15 oz can) cream of coconut
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 cup white Don Q rum
- cinnamon sticks for garnish
As part of this story, Nina asked family and friends to describe her cooking. We were blown away by the responses. It’s clear that Nina Arena can tear up in the kitchen!
“Sensational burst of flavors,” said her son Phil.
“I promise you that once you get a plate of my mama’s Arroz con gandules, pernil, y ensalada de papa. Mmmm Boy oh boy! My all-time FAVORITE! classic Puerto Rican dish that she can throw down. Once you take the first bite, you won’t want to put the fork down, and by the time you know it you’ve CLEARED your plate. It’s all goes down to her seasonings, the flavors, to texture. You can literally taste the love, the time and effort that she puts into her food. I promise to ANYONE who has not tried her food YOU’RE MISSING OUT you want to try some REAL old school Puerto Rican food. It’ll taste so good, it’ll make you wanna SMACK YO MAMA!,” said her daughter Kiara
“Your food is delectable! So comforting to the soul. You’re a chef who elevates every dish she makes, from classic Puerto Rican dishes to Italian dishes to Asian fusion. That is a true testament to the passion and love that goes into every dish you make. I can personally devour a whole pan of your Macaroni Salad but that’s a story for another day,” said her daughter Suelyn.
“One of my favorite things of the day after work is looking forward to going home and eating your food! one of my favorites is your chicken stew! You know one of my jokes is how I always say, I like when you go into that magical room( kitchen) and come out with these banging 5-star meals that look and taste better than a restaurant! everything you attempt to make always becomes a master meal! You have a gift and a talent with your hands in a kitchen! my very own master chef Ramsey! LOL Thank you for all your beautiful meals! Love you,” said her significant other Sean.
‘When I met her 20 years ago, she had so much love to give, passion, energy, bubbly personality, caring and patience, today she is the same person and with all these qualities, she add these special ingredients into every dish that she creates. I am a great believer that if the food is made and given with love, you will enjoy every spoonful of it. When I eat her food, I eat “Con Gusto”. I was fortunate that Nina was able to stay with me for a couple of months at my home, and I was able to taste privately her home cooking, yes, I’m selfish…and to this day I still can taste the “Carne Guisada con Arroz Blanco” one of my favorite dishes. I saw her in action how she just enjoyed every minute of her cooking, laughing, joking, listening to music or just talking. She’s inspiring by just looking at what she loves to do best, she puts love, passion and all her special ingredients into every dish. She has inspired me, she will inspire others, she makes cooking fun. You will gain a valuable asset to your network, to the community and she will reach into the hearts and souls of so many that find themselves discouraged in learning how to cook. Nina will change that and you will see that with your own eyes. This is an amazing opportunity for everyone involved, there is love, patience, and passion, the ingredients to a successful dish,” said her best friend Mary Hernandez.
‘If you are looking for authentic, bright, flavorful, Hispanic food, Nina is the cook for you. Her food is absolutely delicious, cooked to perfection. Savory and succulent meats; fresh vibrant, tasty, veggies and hearty warm side dishes. She creates dishes that can transport you back to the island. (better than your grandmas cooking) If it’s adding a new twist to traditional foods or cooking a more health-focused dish, you can taste the love in every bite. I truly enjoy eating her food, imagine having home cooking at restaurant-quality! Whenever I have the chance, I am constantly asking for tips and recipes that can boost my own cooking! You can tell the excitement and passion that comes from her when she shares about her food. She has a vibrant and bold personality and cooks food that matches that very same style, “ said her niece Sasha.
“As I’m overwhelmed with these amazing testimonials of the people I love, makes me feel special and loved! This opportunity is a long-lived dream to bring my passion to others,” said Arena.
Make sure you catch her Sunday right here on the Hispanic Food Network!
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