She says that she dances whenever she cooks, and I bore witness to it when I first broke bread with Marlene Baquet.
Her family hails from Venezuela, and while international conflict continues to rip its way through this country on the northern coast of South America, she thinks it is important to focus on the beauty of the country and its people.
“The governmental crisis makes me sad, it makes me angry, but we all have hope that good things will come out of these very tough times,” she said.
For Baquet, food is at the center of that hope, and she meets regularly with members of the local Venezuelan community to do what Venezuelans do best: eat, drink, pray and dance.
“I came from a family where my mom made everyone happy with her food,” said Baquet, proprietor of the Ricuras de Venezuela food truck. “It was always her dream to open a restaurant one day. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it, and I felt like I owed this to her in bringing her food to Tucson.”
Baquet learned about Venezuelan cooking from her mother, and later took up the torch to keep the spirit of mom’s cuisine alive when she passed away in 2014.
Her menu is anchored by the traditional Venezuelan arepa, a spongy, corn-based cake that can either be served on its own or stuffed, sandwich-style, with shredded beef, pork, chicken, black beans and cheese, or other ingredients.
The dish that inspired the dancing on our dinner date was the pabellon criollo, a combination of Venezuelan street foods including shredded beef, sweet plantains, black beans and rice.
As she was plating this mouthwatering medley for me, she broke into a dance that appeared to be culturally on point. I’m not sure if it was the joropo or the merengue, or a proprietary blend of both, but it seemed to be a natural fit for my introduction to Venezuelan cuisine, at no extra charge.
In the spirit of transparency, I must confess that a single bite of the arepa was all it took for me to stand and do a little interpretive jig of my own.
“That’s the best part of our business; we love that,” said Baquet, seeming to suggest that I wasn’t the first one of her customers to dance after trying this dish.
In addition to the arepas and pabellon criollos, Baquet’s menu features a selection of Venezuelan empanadas and cachapas, as well as regionally inspired side dishes and beverages.
“There’s joy in what we do, there’s fun in what we do, and though there are mixed feelings over the current situation in Venezuela that go through all of us, we know that good will win.”
You can follow the travels of the Ricuras de Venezuela food truck, a regular fixture at local breweries, taprooms, and hotels, on Facebook at “Ricuras de Venezuela.”
When a dish inspires a dance, you know that you are onto something. When the dance inspires hope in the face of despair, you know you have accomplished something.
Now get up and dance!
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.