We continue our "My Dominican Food" series of interviews with Dominicans by birth and adoption from various artistic disciplines. This time our guest is Dominican musician Karel Kalaf.
What is your favourite dish (to eat)?
Well, like many Dominicans I’ve always been a rice fanatic. I like it in every way: White, brown, moro de habichuelas, with chicken, rice cakes, concón. Viva rice! Now that I’ve made that clear I have to say that since I left the island I can’t stop fantasising about mangú with fried cheese and topped with onions…
What’s your favourite recipe (for cooking)? Have you got any trick or tip for preparing it?
Tomato sauce, because it goes with everything. I use it for making pasta, aubergine parmigiana and for making soy meat and other stuff.
The first thing is to sauté onions and garlic in olive oil over a low flame. In about two minutes the kitchen is filled with a fairly pleasant smell and you know you’re on the right track. Then I add the tomatoes (I always use tinned tomatoes because I’m very lazy) and my secret ingredient. Actually it’s not a secret, but I don’t think many people use it in our country - I add Provencal herbs (herbes de Provence for the polyglots). That gives it a different taste and the sauce is ready in just a few minutes.
Has food influenced your work as a musician?
Of course it has. One has to work in order to eat and if both can be combined, even better. I spent last year working in Greece. I was in Crete for six months, working in 5-star hotels. If there was a determining factor for accepting that contract it was when I was told how good the food was. The most difficult part was getting up on stage after dinner when all I wanted was to go straight to bed, I was so full. I remember that the drummer, who was the biggest eater, played at half speed that first month. He played heavy metal as if it were a ballad, because he had stuffed himself.
Tell us about your experience living in the UK, from a gastronomic point of view. Has it been difficult to find Dominican ingredients?
The UK – I’m living in Scotland right now – is another world when it comes to food. In Santo Domingo I had five mango trees and every morning during the season I had a plate of peeled mangos for breakfast, real VIP service. Here in the UK I have to peel my own fruit and go to the supermarket to buy it, put on a coat, scarf and gloves to buy fruit that has been imported from Africa or Asia. It’s really not the same taste as fruit from our country, which is fresh and tastes better.
Here people eat everything. And when I say everything I really mean everything. Bear in mind that it is a country where winter is cold and it snows and there are no plantain trees like in our country, where fruit and vegetables are grown all year round. Here in the winter you eat what you stored in summer or the animals you have. So they eat every part of the animal. For example, there is something called a pork pie, which consist of flour-based pastry like a little cake, filled with half pork and half lard.
There is also the famous English breakfast (note that I did say breakfast) which has bacon, sausages, fried eggs, baked beans, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes, a thing called black pudding that is made with fried pig blood (I told you they eat everything). I’ve read that this contains more calories than the daily recommendation, and that’s just breakfast!
The truth is that once you’ve eaten it, you skip lunch, afternoon tea and even supper!
Dominican ingredients appear once in a while, especially if you go to a Jamaican supermarket. They sell Caribbean food and you can find plantains, cassava (yuca), yautía (taro) and ñame, hot peppers and similar stuff. I don’t think Dominican salami would be allowed in, because it doesn’t meet European Union standards L, but grab an Italian salami which is the original salami. I had fried cheese once, Presidente is not imported but Brugal rum is in all the bars because a British company bought part of the business. Unfortunately, a Cuba Libre in a bar (or pub as they call them here) costs about 550 pesos and I as a Dominican will not pay that for a drink that costs an eighth of the price in my country.
Dominican-born musician Karel Kalaf is currently based in Edinburgh. He has a BA in Classical Music and Teaching from the Conservatorio Nacional in Santo Domingo. He won the Classical Guitarist of the Year award in 2007 and has also produced tracks for film and radio. In 2008, Karel represented the DR at an International Guitar Festival in Cuba and has also been invited to perform in several countries including the UK, the Netherlands, Greece, Argentina, France and Spain. In 2009, as the Artistic Director with Marel Alemany's band, Karel travelled to Buenos Aires on tour where they opened a concert for the legendary Juan Luis Guerra. He was also a special guest representing the DR at the Viva América events in Madrid. In 2011, he closed the Day of the Spanish Language Festival for the Instituto Cervantes in London.
Karel plays classical, rock, jazz, blues, Latin, funk and merengue. His work has been featured in films, most recently in Trópico de Sangre. A concert Karel played in with Los Hermanos Rosario was awarded the Concert of The Year in 2010 at the coveted Casandra awards.
Karel has shared the stage with international acts including Fito Paez, Cristian Castro, Danny Rivera, Pablo Milanes, Eros Ramazotti and Pedro Guerra, Grammy Award Winners Chichi Peralta, Manuel Tejada, Allan Leschorn and Sandy Gabriel, Los Hermanos Rosario, Xiomara Fortuna and Jose Antonio Rodriguez. Also, Latin American Idol Winner Marta Heredia, and local rock and pop legends Tony Almont, Pavel Núñez, Marel Alemany and Luis Días as well as Ruben González and the Santo Domingo Classical Guitar Quartet.
Photo provided by Karel