Hello. I’m Victor, father of two children and three dogs living on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I love to cook. Food has been both my damnation and my saving grace. In the past three years my life completely changed, as a result, now I’m a proud Vegan and a vegan cook was born. Here is my story.
Most “About me posts” tell you accomplishments and superficial information. Here I hope you learn a little more than that. I have been a cook over 24 years and a Chef over 15 years. I Express myself through food creating connections, relationships, emotions and memories. These are the building blocks of who we are, therefore food is an essential part of who I am.
Discovering a plant-based diet sent me on a journey of self discovery. This blog is the direct result of that journey. I wanted to share my story and how veganism has changed my life and food blogging seemed like the perfect way to accomplish this. Combining my love of writing, my creativity and my love of cooking. That romance with food and how is made started when I was a kid.
I had a happy and healthy childhood. I collected comics and loved wrestling. I grew up without a father in a humble house as an only child. That’s why I always have a chip on my shoulder that I can’t shake. My mother as a single mom clawed and scratched to raise me and made sure that I had everything I needed and I will forever be grateful for that. She taught me good values and how to be a good person.
Those lessons stay with me to this day. Our family, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents all chipped in to help her. They were always and still are very supportive, gave me love and helped shape me into the man I am today. It really took a village.
I participated in any sport I could play. My preferred one was basketball and I played it during my childhood, High school and early college. The sport taught me teamwork, work ethic and was a big part of my upbringing. Leadership accountability and other skills were the same ones that will help me later on in my career. That’s why I’m a big sports fan.
My grandmother “Abuela Moncha” used to take care of me while my mom worked. Now I take care of her at 100 years old. She was my first teacher. Our elders like so many in our cultures hold the key to our traditions and of course our flavor. She showed me how to cook good puertorrican food at an early age. The first recipe I cooked with her was sorullitos de maiz (fried corn sticks).
Check out her recipe here.
She inspired me. Her attention to detail, work ethic, tips and tricks set me up for success from the get go. I learned the basics of cooking way before culinary school with a Master Chef. With traditional dishes and recipes passed on for generations my unofficial training began. At the time I was one of the few guys at my age that can cook. She is famous for many dishes among our friends and family especially barriguitas de vieja (pumpkin fritters).
See her famous recipe here.
Working in the kitchen
My first job in a Kitchen was Ironically as a butcher. I worked as a butcher and a cook while I studied to be an English teacher in college. Even though I liked teaching, I loved Cooking, and eventually it became my calling and I enrolled in culinary school. There I decided that this was going to be my career path which would help me sharpen my skills and learn about safe food handling, cooking techniques and nutrition. The first recipe I cooked at school was the classic Ratatouille.
Check out my Ratatouille recipe here.
After being in the industry for a while I did all the jobs available at a restaurant from washing dishes to even waiting tables. Through It all I met and became friends with so many wonderful people who mentored me, helped me and loved me. The restaurant culture was a wild, crazy, fun experience that I will cherish forever. But also full of excess and vices (drinking and food were mine). I quietly battled those demons and all the baggage that comes with them. These battles are always there; they will come back later on this story.
I kept working in restaurants and hotels holding two jobs at a time climbing my way up the Kitchen until I became in charge of a Kitchen and eventually a Chef. During this time I learned all I could and started sharing with others about the fascinating culinary world. I felt it was time for my own thing. With a lot of work I proudly started my own catering business out of my own kitchen. Cooking and serving weddings and events is still my favorite.
Like in any good story I fell in love, went through ups and downs only to learn my lesson, mature and get married. We had two amazing kids and built ourselves a family which became my motor and motivation.
Leaving everything behind we moved to Florida to find better opportunities and a new life. With $32 to our name we worked hard built a life and a safe environment where our kids could grow up and thrive. Cooking for my family became my passion. We had amazing feasts on a regular basis especially on holidays, birthdays, Superbowl Sunday. Food was a symbol of good times. I loved it. We were happy.
I was proud, we started from zero and we did well for ourselves there for 10 years. We worked hard but also had fun. But like any good story life got in the way, and “plot twist”, I decided to move back to Puerto Rico.
As we moved back to Puerto Rico a newfound love for cooking challenges came over me. So I thought about it and picked up baking, enrolling again in culinary school. Baking helped me work on recipe development, consistency and precision. Desserts were the one aspect of cooking that I wasn’t confident about and I knew I needed to improve.
Check out my Apple and Currant Pie recipe here.
New opportunities came working as a Chef in different restaurants. A lot of good projects, recognition and success were happening but something that a lot of professionals go thru especially in the restaurant industry, exhaustion overwork, anxiety, self doubt and depression.
As a Chef as your career grows so does your confidence and your ego. This confidence allows you to perform, innovate and create, at the same time the inevitable fall from grace is expected. And as this happens those demons I battled came back and as I participated in a cooking competition that did not go well my confidence started to fade. Little did I know that was the least of my problems I had no idea what was about to come our way.
On Wednesday, September 20th everything changed. A few days removed from hurricane Irma affecting mostly the northern part of the Island, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, a night I Will never forget.
Hurricane Maria was a deadly Category 5 hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands. in September 2017. It is regarded as the worst natural disaster in recorded history to affect Puerto Rico. With an estimated $91 billion in damages and 2,975 deaths. The hurricane completely destroyed the island’s power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity as well as communication networks crippled across the island. Creating chaos in the middle of the emergency.
In the immediate aftermath:
- 100% of the island without power (about 3.4 million people)
- 95% of cell networks were down, with 48 of the island’s 78 counties networks being completely inoperable.
- 85% of above-ground phone and internet cables were knocked out leaving the island without reliable communications.
By October 1, 2017, there were ongoing fuel shortage and distribution problems. The food supply which exclusively comes from the US mainland also started to scarce With ports closed. Exposing the instability of our food supply chain.
One month after the hurricane:
- 88% of the island was without power (about 3 million people)
- 29% lacked tap water (about 1 million people), and
- 40% of the island had no cell service.
Thirty days after the hurricane, most hospitals were open, but most were on backup generators that provide limited power.
“Doctors were using the flashlights on their cellphones to conduct surgeries; think about that for a minute. Hospitals were forced to turn away people who were desperate for help”.
In our house it took 3 months for the power to return but there were areas that took 11 months. This directly affected the death toll with a lot of elderly and vulnerable. It was estimated that 2,658–3,290 additional people died in the six months after the hurricane over the expected background rate, after accounting for emigration from the island. This mostly accounts for people dying from lack of medical treatment including dialysis and other medical complications. As result, the official death toll was updated from the initial 64 to an estimated 2,975 by the Government of Puerto Rico.
Like millions of Puerto Ricans, hurricane Maria changed my life. The emergency took a great toll and took everybody in different paths. I lost my job, the hotel and the restaurant I worked at was destroyed and it would take more than a year to come back.
The economy was at a standstill and my whole industry was non-existent, the need to reinvent myself and find different ways to make a living was inevitable. My solution: a new venture, a food truck. Unfortunately this venture was not meant to be.
A piercing pain in my stomach woke me up. After a night in the emergency room my gallbladder had 3 stones and I needed surgery to remove it. Turns out eating fast food and food high in sodium and nitrates was not a healthy diet. Who knew?
While I was recuperating from surgery my lack of patience drove me to be careless and a ventral hernia showed its ugly head. Something I would come to regret to this day. I was overweight weighing over 300 lbs and continue to eat anxiously at an alarming rate. This was not helping putting more pressure on the area.
I was in the middle of trying to get a grant to put together my food truck. By taking entrepreneurial training and getting help to get said grant to no avail while needing the surgery to repair my hernia. The food truck pipedream had to wait. I completely neglected my health and my family. I started eating anxiously, it became almost like an addiction. This put a strain on my marriage and my family life. Jobless and depressed, weighing as much as 360 lbs. I have become a burden. It had to end.
So there I was. I lost my physical and mental health, my job and my family.
Back living with my mother and my grandmother who now had dementia and almost bedridden. While helping my mom take care of “abuela Moncha” I was working again in a restaurant and my hernia kept growing at an alarming rate, another repair surgery needed to happen soon. Finally I was able to have the surgery to repair it but I was working two weeks later causing another hernia to appear. I had to stop working in a kitchen, the one place where I felt sane.
How I lost 108 pounds
My Dr. suggested that I needed to lose weight for my next repair to be successful. At that point I examined myself and my actions up to this point. How I could lose weight taking in consideration my past experiences with fast diets and fads. From Atkins to Herbalife I had done them all.
I just needed to be honest with myself. Recognizing that I was sabotaging every effort that I was doing to better my situation. And face the fact that I was the only one who could do this. I had the nutritional information needed as I studied it in culinary school and throughout my career. A radical change in habits and diet was necessary.
I knew what I had to do. A low calorie plant-based diet in order to address my dangerous weight gain and the looming dangers of diabetes and high blood pressure I was nearing. I wrote a plan and applied it, losing 108 lbs in six months. Learn more about my weight loss here.
I had my second hernia repair surgery unfortunately it would not be my last. After the surgery an infection took hold, taking me to the hospital again. Controlling the infection was the priority in the middle of the COVID pandemic. With the infection controlled an assessment of the hernia was in order. The result? I still have a ventral hernia and need another surgery, this time a more complicated one. More updates as they happen, wish me luck I believe in good vibes.
Planning a good well balanced plant-based diet undoubtedly will lean you toward whole foods and organic ingredients. Less processed products are better and have higher nutritional value. But what you will discover in this process is where your food comes from. And here is where your eyes open to a harsh reality. The food we consume comes with a high price tag to our environment and the animal kingdom, a huge price.
Pain, suffering and destruction for financial gain. That’s the common denominator in all of the world’s biggest and more pressing problems. Like many of you I was a hypocrite claiming I cared for the environment and loved animals while eating to the point of gluttony. Even with all the food produced by the big industrialized farming complex how come people are dying from hunger every day? I knew where our food came from. I have been to slaughter houses and seen the suffering. Still like many others ignored it. Because I liked to eat, it was convenient, It looked good and so on. Real change starts with me.
Throughout my whole life food has impacted my life negatively and positively I’m determined to turn all the negatives into positives.
I can’t change the world, but I can change my world. By adding compassion and empathy to my daily routine I can enrich my life and have an impact on others. It is really simple, animals don’t have to suffer for me to eat. Aside from the impact on my own health and the environment that my food choices have. It is the right thing to do. All Animals including humans are self-aware, and capable of experiencing pleasure and pain. They deserve our compassion, respect and protection. These facts made easy for me the decision of becoming a Vegan. Learn how to become a vegan here.
All I can do is share my story and my experiences with the hope it can help others like it has helped me. Being a Vegan and a Chef is a conflict of interests and naturally I had to change the type of food I cooked. So naturally I did what I always do and learned all I could about plant based cooking and applied my knowledge to come up with a new way to cook and eat. This Blog documents that journey in order to share it with whoever needs it. What could be a small gesture, a phrase or an image could turn into something special, joyful or motivating to someone who really needs it.
Now that you know me better, You know why I am a vegan and how much I love to cook. On this blog, I regularly publish articles, delicious ideas and new recipes that I like to cook at home.
Thank you for your stopping by.
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