NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– A diverse community calls New Orleans home. It is what makes our food taste sensational. This is the story of a local New Orleans chef and her connection to a large population of New Orleans.
At one point, a quarter of the bananas in the United States came through the port of New Orleans. Today, bananas are a common table food, but at one point, they often spoiled during the long voyage from Central America. Then, in 1933, the United Fruit Company moved its headquarters to New Orleans.
Most of the workers were from Honduras and naturally quite a few Hondurans made a home in the Crescent City. Over the years, the Honduran population grew exponentially, especially in the 1950’s. in 1998 a hurricane in Central America brought more Hondurans to the United States. In 2005, many more came across the border to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. At one point, the United States Census Report showed there are an estimated 100,000 people of honduran decent in the greater New Orleans area; making it the largest population of Hondurans outside Honduras itself.
Melissa Araujo came tot he United States at age three and multiple generations of her family have made New Orleans home. Her uncle was the first to arrive, joining the military at age 17 in the 1950’s; he served in the Vietnam War. In the 1980’s, Melissa’s father left Honduras after much hardship to pursue a better life for himself and his family.
Melissa see’s many in the hispanic population poorly misunderstood, saying, “We have dreams. We have desires and ambitions, and we are a hardworking people. I am proud of who I am. I am very proud of the two parents I came from. My dad was the head of the political tension of the Coalition of Workers. He was almost killed right in front of us. It was at that time that he decided to immigrate.”
New Orleans is racially and culturally ambiguous and in many ways it is similar in culture to Latin America and the Caribbean.
“The culture here is exactly the same as in Honduras. Even though New Orleans was discovered by the French, the Spanish colonized it for so long, that it is embedded in the city’s spirit. New Orleans is what it is because of the African and Spanish influence. Honduras also has both of those influences. Honduras’ coast was colonized by the Spanish who brought ships of the African enslaved.”
Today, Executive Chef Melissa is a noteworthy foodie who has been on multiple national television shows, including the Food Network’s: Beat Bobby Flay and Chopped. However, in the rich culinary palette of New Orleans, Executive Chef Melissa see’s something on the plate, because not too many people from New Orleans have had the pleasure of experiencing Honduran cuisine.
The Honduran population is at times, an invisible community to the many in the city who are unaware of it’s existence. However, Executive Chef Melissa has the remedy.
This month, she opens “Alma” her brand new restaurant in the Bywater community of New Orleans. Alma means soul in the Spanish language and soul is exactly what her patrons will taste.
“When they come in to my restaurant I want them to know who we are. Opening Alma in this community, brings be the opportunity to showcase what Honduran culture is. My spirit has a lot of stories to tell and it wants to tell my story through my food and through my family.”
Alma opens September 27th and is located at 800 Louisa Street.