Chef Pepin – This Cuban American was the first Hispanic TV Chef

Chef Pepin never meant to be a celebrity chef. He can thank his daughter Anamaria for that. She was working at Univision when the show TV Mujer was looking for a chef. He had been working in the insurance industry for seventeen years and never thought about having a career in television. This was in the 1980s when Spanish-language television was in its infancy. He auditioned for the role and he impressed the producers so much with his charisma that he was hired. And the rest is history…Spanish-television history.

 

He was 40 years old at the time and although he loved to cook, he was not trained as a chef. But his charming and comedic personality won over the millions of TV viewers all over the country. After that show was canceled, he later became the main chef for Univision’s morning show Despierta America.

And now everywhere he goes, people instantly recognize him.

His real name is Jose Hernandez and he came to the United States from Cuba when he was 12 years old along with his aunt. Like many other Cubans, he came from a well-to-do family and had to get adjusted to life in his new country.

When times were good in Cuba, the family cook Hilda, would be waiting for him at the school bus stop and he would excitedly say malanga amarilla – his favorite vegetable, the yellow taro root since she cooked it to perfection.

In an interview he recalled the following:

I grew up on a farm, my grandparents’ farm. We used to make cheese, dry beef, like jerky, we made sausages, chorizo, morcillas, so I actually grew up in this environment. My mother studied home economics and that was a career in itself at the time and of course, I love food!

His mother died when he was four years old and then he went to live with his grandmother. He was an only child and he enjoyed the special attention his grandmother gave him. Another huge blow was when his grandmother passed away just a year from when his mother died. And that’s when his aunt took over caring for him. It was a very difficult time for the young boy.

Before leaving for Miami, he remembers his father telling him:

When you go to that country … when you go to Miami, don’t depend on anybody, you have got to work.

In Miami, he worked at a marina when he was 14 years old as a short-order cook. Hernandez sometimes worked three jobs at a time to make ends meet.

Chef Pepín has been married to his wife Telvy for over 50 years. She is also his biggest fan and supporter. They have known each other since high school. They have two children – Anamaria and Jose Antonio.

Initially in his career as a TV Chef, he prepared typical Cuban meals such as Ropa Vieja and Chicken and Rice (arroz con pollo) because those were the ones he knew how to cook. Eventually, he had to learn to prepare Mexican meals since the majority of the TV viewers were of Mexican descent.

Here is Chef Pepin’s recipe for one of the classic Cuban meals – Chicken and Rice (Arroz con Pollo).

 Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lb boneless, skinless Chicken Breast
  • Garlic Powder (to taste)
  • 3 cups Parboil Rice
  • 1/2 Green Pepper
  • 1 10-oz can mild Rotel Tomatoes
  • Lime (or use Sour Orange)
  • 7 cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 whole peeled Onion
  • 2 envelopes Complete Seasoning
  • 4 tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions

  1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized cubes.
  2. Use garlic and lime or sour orange to season the chicken. Let it rest until you are ready to cook.
  3. Heat a pan on high and add olive oil. Once the oil is hot, cook the chicken until its color changes.
  4. Once the chicken has been pan-seared, add all the ingredients to a rice cooker.
  5. Turn the rice cooker on and let it cook for about 40 minutes. Everything should be done once the rice is ready.

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