Fuerte y Orgulloso: Yale Hospitality Celebrates Latinx Culture and Heritage

October 15, 2022

New Haven, Conn. —In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, taking place annually from September 15 to October 15, each of Yale’s 14 dining halls hosted special dinners drawing inspiration from the cuisine of the diverse regions of Latin America - from Ecuador to Puerto Rico to Mexico. This commemoration of Latinx culture, however, is limited to neither this month nor the 14 dining halls—it is a part of Yale Hospitality’s ongoing commitment to craft culturally-inspired meals for the Yale community.

On October 6, Timothy Dwight College Chef William Ojeda took helm of the dining hall’s dinner menu. Ojeda’s parents emigrated from Ecuador in the 1960s and into New Jersey, where he was born. After his family moved back to Ecuador, Ojeda lived in the country for 11 years before returning to the United States alone, where he eventually trained to become a chef.
The menu, which Ojeda described as “80% Ecuadorian,” incorporated flavors from other parts of Latin America, included pork and tofu fritadas, shrimp and chochos ceviche, fried plantains, black beans, rice, and churros. “This is the first time we’ve ever made this type of menu here,” commented Ojeda. “We have a pork dish from Ecuador. We have beans and rice from Cuba. We have plantains—we all eat plantains. I’m presenting to you some of my culture.” 
Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray dinners took place on October 13, with a menu representing a combination of recipes from different Latinx team members in Yale Hospitality. “Any member of our team - from dishwasher to pantry workers and others - can take part in this event,” explained Franklin and Murray Culinary Excellence Manager Alexandra Romeos-Wood. “Getting the team together to brainstorm this menu is very heartwarming.”
Romeos-Wood, who is of Greek and Puerto-Rican heritage, contributed a Puerto-Rican roasted pork dish to the menu. “This is what I’ve learned from my grandmother from just seeing her in the kitchen on her feet all day cooking, always asking me ‘Are you hungry? Are you hungry?’” recollected Romeos-Wood. “It’s now my turn to share some of my culture and what I’ve been eating ever since I was a little girl.”
This menu brainstorm was not limited to Yale Hospitality staff. At Franklin and Murray, student dining hall manager Ingrid Muniz Almaguer, who is Mexican-American, shared her family’s mole poblano recipe. Muniz Almaguer describes it as “chocolate chicken,” where chocolate is mixed into a thick chili sauce that is served with chicken. “I have really fond memories of this dish,” said Muniz Almaguer. “When it was my birthday or something else to celebrate, my mom would make mole poblano. She would also always make this big pot to go around the neighborhood, and give them plates of it. She was sharing our culture with our neighbors, and it brought the neighborhood together.”
The Latinx heritage dinners have been a hit with many students, including first-year Adaora Mobisson, who dined at Timothy Dwight. “I really liked the ceviche and the churros, but honestly all of it was very good, and it was very balanced,” commented Mobisson. The dinner also held personal significance for Mobisson, who is half-Mexican. “The meal felt particularly special to me because I am Latina,” reflected Mobisson. “Having a night where we’re eating cultural foods and sharing these different meals with friends—it brought back a little bit of home.”
Aside from the dining halls’ special dinners, meals inspired by Latinx cuisine have been—and are currently being—incorporated into Yale Hospitality’s menus at various units. Chef Rogelio Maldonado Bonilla, a cook at the Schwarzman Center who immigrated to the United States from Mexico 14 years ago, has been taking an active role in these efforts. “I try to put a little Mexican touch on everything that I do,” said Maldonado Bonilla. “For example, right now one of the sandwiches we have at Elm is called Tortas Ahogadas. The birria—the sauce that you dip it in—is my recipe. The taco on Ivy’s opening menu was also my recipe, the filling, the salsa, and especially the handmade tortillas!”
Looking ahead a few months into the future, Commons will introduce new dishes inspired by Latinx cuisine to the menu, including Maldonado Bonilla’s very own mole recipe at the Rostir station. “Mole is a paste that can have a lot of ingredients. We make it at home and it’s completely Mexican. My mole has 21 ingredients,” described Maldonado Bonilla. He also revealed that there are more exciting menu additions to come. “I cannot tell you what [just yet], but you will lick your fingers,” hinted Maldonado Bonilla.
Tapping culinary inspiration from cultures around the world reflects Yale Hospitality’s year round mission of celebrating heritage and building community. “I hope this event has the impact of making students more curious about our culture,” said Muniz Almaguer. “It’s like putting them in my shoes: these dishes are giving them a glimpse into why I’m craving certain foods and why they remind me of home.”
Mobisson expressed similar sentiments. “There’s a lot of factors that go into a culture, but the one thing that every culture can agree upon is that different types of foods just bring you together!” remarked Mobisson. “Being able to share a traditional or cultural food is a really easy way to make people feel connected and start a conversation to get more involved in someone’s culture.”
Many team members, such as Ojeda, aspire for these dinners to promote not just Latinx cultures itself, but also the diversity of Latinx culture. “​​There are so many countries in Latin America, but if you staple all of their dishes as ‘Latino food’ without understanding where they came from, you’ve just lost the whole people behind them,” said Ojeda. “This should be an opportunity for people to know, at least, that Ecuador is a small country in South America. And it’s so diverse, [even within the country itself].”
Evidently, the celebration of Latinx heritage does not occur solely this month–in fact, it never ends. “I celebrate being Latino every day,” stated Maldonado Bonilla. “It’s nice to have a month where everybody recognizes us, but this month for us is like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve been here this whole time.’ We are Latinos—we’re going to be loud and proud to be Latinos all year-round.”

Words by Olivia Ren ‘26

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