Interview with Tara Sherry-Torres on Café Con Leche
From September 18 – October 11, Pittsburgh can have a bite of Latino culture at owner/operator Tara Sherry-Torres’s Café Con Leche. The new pop-up project is located in the old Quiet Storm space at 5430 Penn Ave. From 12-4PM, the Café will have gallery hours where local artists will display their Latin American inspired artwork. Currently, the guest vendor SaludPGH is serving Caribbean & Pan-Latino foods from 12-2pm. SaludPgh offers over 34 varieties of vegan/vegetarian empanadas, vegan pasteles, and more.
In 2014, Most Wanted Fine Art, a community service organization that works with Pittsburgh artists to organize a variety of community art projects, teamed up with Sherry-Torres through their MWFA Resident Artist Program. Café Con Leche was the outcome.The pop-up came out of her goal of connecting the Latino community, promoting Latino culture, and providing a place for dialogue and creative problem solving. Sherry-Torres said that Pittsburgh is going through its third renaissance due to the increase of opportunities and livability that the city offers.
“But what really keeps people here in that regard, are businesses, and events, and activities, and places, and communities that they can really connect to on a sustainable basis and offers them spaces and places where they feel welcomed where there’s diversity,” she said. “ That’s what Café Con Leche is really all about, creating spaces and places for diverse people.”
On the Café Con Leche website, it states: “EVERYONE EATS. Food is the foundation on which culture is built. Sharing a meal is a natural way of engaging people, getting them to talk to each other and establishing the foundation of a new relationship.” For Sherry-Torres, through a Café Con Leche menu item called pastelón, she personally found that food connects to culture. Her abuela, which means grandmother in Spanish, made the dish for her as a child.
“Then years and years later, I was at my cousins house in Connecticut and she cooked us all dinner and she made the pastelón,” she said. “It was like a million memories came back to me, about this dish, about my grandmother, about being a little girl in Puerto Rico visiting my family.”
Sherry-Torres said that she felt thankful to her cousin for reintroducing the dish to her, and got the recipe. Now, she shares it with family, friends, and at Café Con Leche events.
“It’s always a hit,” she said. “It’s kind of like a Puerto Rican lasagna. The bottom layer is sweet plantains. The middle layer is seasoned ground beef, which in Spanish is called ‘picadillo’. And then the top layer is pepper jack cheese. The sweetness, the savory-ness, and the spiciness of all those three layers really come together to make an absolutely amazing dish. It’s hands down my favorite dish.”
In the future, along with other things, she plans to make a vegetarian/vegan version of the dish. She also plans to make a permanent space for the project, whether that be in the form of a venue serving food and hosting events or a platform for other people to pop-up in their own light for a night or two. In 2015, she hopes to host events showcasing Latin women’s contributions in both America and Latin America, as well as exploring deeper cultural issues, such as what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ Latin community.
Right now, Café Con Leche is fundraising to keep it going by using Hatch, a local crowd funding website here in Pittsburgh, and by charging for events. They are also looking for other ways to gain capital and partners for the project. But Sherry-Torres remains positive.
“ I think that there are old and new communities here in Pittsburgh that have been around that don’t know where to go, have been waiting for opportunities to connect with each other, and every time an opportunity to connect with each other comes up, people really get excited,” she said. “I have found nothing but open arms, welcome-ness, and excitement. My experience has been really positive.”