Student VoicesBack to student voices archive July 9, 2020
How this student became the “Quarantine Chef” during COVID
by Ramses Rubio, Amherst College junior
As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the U.S. and the threat of being locked in the house for months on end became a reality, I racked my brain for activities to keep myself busy.
One day, as I was preparing some ground beef for hamburgers, I decided to pick up my phone and record myself forming the patties and grilling them. Positive response from friends and family flooded in, so I decided to launch my own cooking show.
Several of my most vivid memories growing up are from the kitchen: helping my mom season a sauce, watching family cook together, trying to steal a bite from the counter. When I was around 10 years old, I started to search for recipes and copy them in the kitchen, and my food, pleasantly enough, turned out edible.
Slowly, I made these recipes my own, adding ingredients or flavor profiles that I preferred. For example, one year my grandmother visited from Panama and showed me a sauce recipe her mom used to make with a soy sauce and ketchup base that I immediately loved and incorporated into my Super Bowl wings.
It was during a trip during my freshman year of high school to Peru’s biggest food festival, called Mistura, that I truly became entranced by the culinary arts. As I walked around the market smelling and tasting foods from different corners of the country, ranging from ceviche to pork made in a “caja china” to “causa” (a layered potato dish), my mind and taste buds raced thinking of ways I could recreate these dishes back home.
It was during a trip during my freshman year of high school to Peru’s biggest food festival, called Mistura, that I truly became entranced by the culinary arts.
Looking back, I realize that trip was a turning point. I discovered that the culinary world could be a pathway to understanding and learning about a country’s culture and history. For example, did you know Peru has more than 4,000 different variations of potatoes that are all used in different ways by the more than 90 different ethnic groups in the country?
In my videos, I try to always be myself while exploring the intersectionality between food, politics and culture.
Food gives me space to express myself free from stress, anxiety or scrutiny. News during quarantine leads to a barrage of sad, pessimistic or angry emotions. It is hard to be hopeful or optimistic about the future. I’ve struggled with anxiety during college, and the pandemic has only made that struggle harder. Nevertheless, whenever I step into my kitchen, I instantly feel at peace, as if all that matters in the world is the dish I am about to prepare.
I want my audience to recognize the culture behind the food we eat every day and also ask themselves simple — but serious — questions. How did cuisines and cultures become globalized? How come anywhere you go, there is at least one dish from another country? In Peru, for example, there was a large migration from China in the 1850s as Chinese sought work. In turn, they blended their cuisine with Peruvian ingredients and dishes creating what is known today as Chifa.
Cooking, I found, is a great metaphor for life. Just like life, cooking loves to throw you curveballs. Meals don’t always go according to plan. We must often adapt and improvise when the necessary ingredients are not in the pantry or we need to accommodate those we’re sharing our food with. If we don’t learn how to adapt and improvise in the kitchen, we can’t be great cooks.
Cooking, I found, is a great metaphor for life. Just like life, cooking loves to throw you curveballs.
The other day, I watched a documentary on Diana Kennedy, a British author who at the ripe young age of 97 is one of the world’s leading experts on Mexican cuisine. Kennedy talked about one of her favorite verses from the poet, Rabindranath Tagore, that sums up perfectly what I hope to accomplish via my platforms:
“‘Let me light my lamp,’ says the star, ‘and never debate if it will help to remove the darkness.’”
Ramses Rubio is a rising junior at Amherst College. He is currently pursuing a double major in Economics and Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought. During the pandemic he started his own cooking brand, The Quarantine Chef, and obtained his real estate license. His YouTube channel is Ramses Rubio: Grubbing with Ramses, and he actively posts recipes and cooking tutorials on Instagram and Facebook.
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