2016 Create Change fellows Adalky Capellan and Terence Trouillot decided to have their creative conversation focus on the topic of food, but it turned out to be so much more. Together, they discovered that the histories behind Haiti and Dominican Republic are very complicated, problematic, and difficult, yet there is also so much shared between the two cultures through food, experiences, and stories…
Terence Trouillot: I had so much coffee today, I feel crazy.
Adalky Capellan: I don’t drink coffee?
AC: My mom raised me on coffee. Like she’d give me coffee as little a kid. But when I went to college. It just did not sit well with me how much coffee people were consuming. You know, I drank coffee just for the taste. Drinking it to stay up would really mess me up. I’m not used to caffeine like that.
My mom would make me coffee with nutmeg and chocolate with milk in it. Ooooh!!!! And cinnamon on top! That shit was delicious.
TT: (laughter) My dad puts a lot of sugar in his coffee. Loves it sweet. That’s how I grew up drinking coffee—loads of sugar—until I started working in coffee shops as a barista. My very first job was at the Angelika Film Center in SoHo. I was the Cafe manager. I was eighteen. But anyway, I started drinking coffee black as I got more into coffee and I just liked the flavor of it without sugar—no milk, none of that shit. But my dad loves it sweet—tons of fucking sugar. It’s fucked up.
AC: I drink it black with tons of sugar. That’s how I do it. On special occasions I would add some milk.
TT: Yeah, I don’t fuck with milk.
AC: I actually can’t drink milk if there’s nothing sweet in it. I had an episode when I was in preschool that was traumatizing. It was lunchtime and everyone was drinking milk and I started to drink some. I couldn’t stomach it. It started going through my nose… Ever since then I don’t mess with it, unless I have something sweet to go with it, or like chocolate milk or something.
I think my mom, now that she’s older, she’s really cautious about what she drinks. Like now she always drinking almond milk.
TT: My mom does the same thing. Yeah she stays drinking almond milk and gets all that healthy organic stuff now. My mom got really health-conscious in last 5, 10 years. You know following all the trends—organic chicken, kale… I mean mad kale.
AC: She juice?
TT: She juices hard. She makes quinoa instead of rice. Quinoa and black beans, which is crazy.
AC: That sounds good.
TT: It is really good, very different though, but delicious nevertheless. But I gotta say my favorite dish or my favorite thing to eat are fried plantains. Straight up. Sweet plantains especially.
TT: Yeah. Banane pezé in general. I like them salty with pikliz: really spicy pickled cabbage and carrots, and other veggies or what-have-you, with habaneros in it. I don’t care. I like it all. And when I used to make them with my mom we would double fry them, you know. You would cut them, fry them real quick, smash them and then fry them again, put some salt and lime juice.
AC: I was smasher as kid.
TT: Yeah, they have that wooden thing to smash them. You know a very specific culinary instrument.
AC: We used to use a metal cup and just smash them over a piece of napkin.
TT: But yeah, I can eat that shit all day. I love that shit. I love plantain chips, boiled plantains, all of it.
AC: Do you eat them with Ketchup?
TT: What? Nah.
AC: (laughter) I love em with Ketchup.
TT: Wait really?
AC: Yes. Like French fries.
TT: That’s wild. I’ve never heard of that. No we usually eat it with pikliz, which also an amazing thing.
AC: My mom makes beef and onions when we eat fried platanos.
TT: I remember also eating all the plantains. I would straight eat all of them and not leave any for the rents’. I was such an only child—I still am. I was like I don’t give shit, I’m out. I want ’em all! My parents were so chill they would just let me have them, until I got too old to do that, which must have been when I was eighteen. (laughter) So that’s by far my favorite thing, I know that’s kind of basic but that’s my jam. I can’t help it.
AC: Okay I see where you’re coming from, but I gonna tell you my favorite dish. When I would come back home from Indiana, from school, my mom would throw down.! There was Morro negro, black beans and white rice—
AC: And she’d make ensalada de remolacha y de papa: beets and potato salad. It’s so good! And it’s pink. It was meant for me.
AC: And then she made ribs and chicken wings. I’m a wing girl. She would make them to a point that it seemed like chicharrón, crispy pork skin.
TT: Yeah, I love chicharrón. One time I went out to dinner with a friend and we went to a fancy restaurant. It was like a twenty-course meal. And the first dish or amuse-bouche was chicharrón, but the guy didn’t know how to say it.
AC: Like “Chi-cha-rones.”
TT: Yeah, he said in a really dumbass way. It was mad funny. The other thing, every year my mom would make soup joumou. It’s a Haitian tradition to make this soup for the New Year, which is also the anniversary of Haïti’s independence from France.
AC: Does it have meat in it.
TT: Not, it’s mostly like potatoes, yams, corn, and squash or pumpkin. It’s basically a squash soup.
AC: I love me some squash.
TT: And it’s got spaghetti or noodles in it. And it’s simple, nothing fancy, just super good. And then usually in my family for Christmas or whenever we have family get-togethers we make black rice, the riz jon-jon, which is made from this black mushroom that’s indigenous to Haïti.
AC: Yeah, I’ve had that before.
TT: It’s the best rice in the world. It’s on another level. And my half-brother, every time he comes to visit he’s just fiending for some of that rice. But you can’t really get it anywhere. I mean you could get it in Flatbush, but usually my mom gets it from my grandmother when she comes to visit Haïti. And then the other thing is habanero peppers: piment. And we would get those and leave them in the freezer. I love that shit too.
AC: And you guys put it in the actual rice.
TT: Yeah, you put one in the rice while it’s cooking. And sometimes you know you get a really good one and it’s spicy as fuck, but typically it’s pretty mild for the most part. And you usually take it out once it’s done. You make sure you don’t eat it, but the rest of the rice will take on the great flavor and spice of the pepper. But usually it’s not that spicy. But there’s a whole thing in my family where you would try to flex and see if you can eat them whole or whatnot.
AC: Yeah, I’m not trying to do that. I saw that in Cuba. I was like fuck habaneros.
TT: But typically you just cut it up. Dab your meat in eat. Just get some heat on it, especially if you have a good one. You could get a nice kick just by slightly touching it with your slice of meat. It’s dope. Can’t say enough about it.
AC: I was always afraid of touching them and then rubbing my eyes.
TT: Yeah, I did that as a kid. Also, my mom makes really dope-ass chicken. I mean I still don’t know how she does it, but it’s real fucking special. It’s got tomatoes and garlic, and the kicker probably is the adobo seasoning.
AC: What’s adobo to you?
TT: I don’t know, like the go-to spice. Maybe that’s the crack in the food. I mean, I still don’t know what’s in there to be honest, but it’s delicious. But it’s funny, I never use it when I cook.
AC: Yeah, it’s really good. It’s hard not to use it.
TT: Yeah, I couldn’t tell you why I don’t use it. I should probably use it all the time.
AC: Did your mom use the beef bouillon cubes.
TT: Yeah. I remember my mom used to use that shit a lot. I don’t think she uses it anymore but she did use it a lot. There’s in those little wrappers.
AC: As a kid I would sneak some and just eat it like that.
TT: Holy shit really? Did that taste good? That sounds a little gross.
AC: Yeah it’s bit much. It was really weird. We also used to eat adobong, the red adobo, sazon. Our mouths would turn so red. That one tasted the best. (laughter)
TT: We used to have, what are they called? It’s kenèp in creole. You know, they’re kind of like lychees.
AC: Oh limoncillo, ginep.
TT: Right. We would soaked them in rum. Man those were special. I forgot about those. I miss those.
AC: You would soak them in rum. Damn. Yeah it took me so long to be able have one of those ’cause my mom was convinced I was gonna choke on them.
They have them in heights all the time. Yeah during the summer you could get a branch for like two bucks. My grandmother’s house in the DR, she had limoncillo tree and I would always climb the tree to grab some limoncillos. And my mom caught me one time and my hair got stuck in the tree. I was mad lit. We used to climb every tree at my grandmother’s house. We had lime trees—the lime trees weren’t strong enough though. But the aguacate, avocado trees were strong. Limoncillo trees weren’t too strong, but thank god there was the roof right there. But it was tin roof, so I’d get cuts all the time. Thug life. (laughter)
TT: What’s another dish? Oh the kibbeh. That’s my aunt Jocelyn who would make those. You know, kippes.
AC: I actually had one today.
TT: Have you made them before?
AC: I made them with my mom once. It’s just meat and you roll up in bulgur and then you fry them. But it’s just cracked wheat with spices. I didn’t know this before but they’re originally from Lebanon.
TT: Yeah. It’s definitely from the Maghreb—North African influence. So my grandmother, my father’s mother was fair skin—she was Lebanese-Haïtian. And then my grandfather on my dad’s side was very black, but they all grew up in a sort of aristocratic fashion, upscale. So my dad was taught to speak only French and not creole as a kid, although my dad didn’t care for all that and speaks creole all the time.
My dad came to the US he when he was eighteen. He wanted to become an artist.
AC: How did he get in?
TT: He just came. It was really at the time, supposedly. I mean this is in the ’50s and apparently he just went to the Haïtian consulate and they’d managed to get him a visa. Like it wasn’t that difficult. I mean it wasn’t cray at the time, especially if you knew the right people. And you know he joined the army, he paid his dues, and then he married an American woman, so he made it work.
AC: That’s interesting that you say that, because my dad went through some shit. He went to the Mexican border three times and didn’t make it. It was tough. Growing up my dad didn’t really know his father. My grandfather on my dad’s side is Puerto Rican he came from Vieques. And Vieques was being bombed at the time, pretty much by the US. So his mom took him to San Juan and in San Juan he was able to stay in San Turce. San Turce is where all the dark people are at. And my dad has very, very dark skin.
But yeah my cousins went through a lot of shit because all of them were born in the DR and coming into the educational system here was very troubling for them, not because of a language barrier, but because of racial discrimination. So a lot of my cousins didn’t really end up graduating from high school. For them it was challenging because they had been pushed back two years and they also associated themselves more with African American culture than with like Hispanic culture. Don’t get me wrong they listen to reggaeton but they also knew 2Pac by heart . So I was the my siblings and I are the first to actually graduate from college,. from my dad’s side of the family that came to the US, to New York.
TT: It’s funny ’cause my dad’s experience is very different. He looks more Dominican than anything else. And he has straight hair, while my mom is much darker. But when he came to the States, he always makes this joke—my dad is 82, he’s a little older—that as a young man, and this is even before the Civil Rights movement, in the army he couldn’t understand why people were discriminating against him, ’cause in his mind he represented in his culture in Haiti what the white person was, you know being part of the elite. So he always jokes that he was like, “Wait I don’t get it, I’m just as white you.”
So white people didn’t like him obviously, and African-Americans didn’t really like him, because I mean he was just not a part of that culture, so he assimilated with mostly Jews and other people from the Caribbean. And then he ended up marrying a white Jewish woman, which was pretty revolutionary at the time, and they had my brother, my half brother, and they lived in Ditmas Park, Flatbush area in Brooklyn.
And my mom she came to New York when she was 14 in the ’60s with her whole family and moved to the Upper West Side. And then years later my parents met in Queens randomly on a Helicopter ride or some shit. I can’t remember.
AC: (laughter) My parents met at a Lacoste factory in the DR.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Adalky Capellan is a community organizer in the Bronx. As a painter features of her artwork are strongly influenced by current experiences growing up in the neighborhood of Washington Heights and experiences as an Afro-Latina woman.
Terence Trouillot is an art writer and critic and is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Oral Histories Fellow at BOMB Magazine. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University (2007), and received his MFA degree in Art Writing and Criticism at the School of Visual Arts in 2014.