Photo: Feria de la Chinita Barcelona 2012

93 Stories to Understand Our Country’s Gastronomy

Geografía Gastronómica Venezolana, by Ramón David León, was published for the first time 66 years ago. It’s now available in English and in different reading formats

Each gastronomy has its own bible, those go-to books which people always turn to and are never absent in a home where the art of cooking is appreciated. Some end up with stained pages, others are inherited, like the treasures they really are, passing down from generation to generation, keeping the notes written by grandma, corrections by your mom, and the brands of products for the favorite recipes.

These books take on a renewed value when it comes to preserving the flavors of an entire country. Whether it’s because some recipes are forgotten or lost in time, or because, as it happens so often these days, migration is changing the taste, palates, and customs, the risk of losing the culinary tradition exists, and it has to be addressed.

And in this regard, 2019 saw the new chapter of a beautiful story about a family’s determination to rescue and update the work of an ancestor, revealing the work put into not letting our own flavors die: the new edition of Geografía gastronómica venezolana, by the Cumaná journalist Ramón David León. This book first came out in 1954 and it’s considered one of the pioneers in trying to paint a picture of our cuisine. Today, it’s available once again in a “21st Century Edition,” which includes a few additions.

León’s original gathered his “gastronomic biographies,” as he called his reviews on typical national dishes, narrated in his weekly column on the La Esfera journal, of which he was founder and director in 1951. Three years later and as a personal project, he put them all together as a book that ended up being a national reference, since it showed this writer’s determination to not only present these dishes, but ingredients, crops, uses, and customs of the Venezuelan cuisine, which was compiled during his numerous trips across the country.

This book first came out in 1954 and it’s considered one of the pioneers in trying to paint a picture of our cuisine.

León passed away in 1980, but his family has made sure his legacy keeps on. And while in 2004 a reedition of his book was made, it hadn’t been until today, thanks to the available technology, that his heirs launched such an ambitious project of independent publishing and under the print by demand concept, winning the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020 first prize in the translation category, and earning a second place in the Countries-Regions category. All of this during the COVID-19 crisis.

The text in the original back cover, besides explaining the meaning behind the name of the book, recaps the spirit in which León took on the task at the time: “As a Venezuelan, I can brag about personally knowing the important places of my country, the same way I know the more humble ones. I know them not out of mere rambling about, but because of a deep desire to observe. I have always believed that to be considered a true Venezuelan citizen, it isn’t necessary to just know its history; you must also have a geographic record. It’s the best way to learn the national map, to physically travel through it, using your own two feet and seeing with your own eyes the whole extension of the ground that reproduces the unforgettable figures of capricious geometry and asymmetric, multicolored divisions whose first revelation came in the classroom.”

Flavors of a Country in Three Volumes

The new project took two years of hard work, where Daniel Léon (son of Ramón David) had an active role, along with Julio León (nephew), Gonzo Enrique Mellior (great-grandson), and Elio Andrés Rodríguez (great-grandson), all in charge of compiling the 93 original “biographies” written by León, then ordering the recipes of the main dishes reviewed. Everything is included in three volumes.

Thus, the original book, with its 93 biographies, was divided into two volumes. The first one includes 30 biographies with the recipes, designed by chefs that represent each place. The new edition of Geografía gastronómica venezolana also includes a photographic journey with panoramic images from 17 emblematic Venezuelan locations.

The second volume boasts the other 63, and 49 remaining recipes, prepared by several Venezuelan chefs that are in exile. It wasn’t possible to write down the recipes for all biographies, since some include entries about the tabaco del guácharo, coffee, white rum, and pollo cañero (a type of toad eaten in the Orinoco Delta), among others.

The third book, which gathers the original work of the 93 biographies with their 79 illustrated recipes, is still under development and is expected to be published in July 2020. This volume will also include six Venezuelan songs on MP3 format, from several Venezuelan musicians, and 80 panoramic photographs.

Volumes one and two are available in Spanish on Amazon, Blurb Books, Google Play Books, My Bestseller and Smashwords. The first volume is also available in English, and they hope to also have it in French, Italian, and Portuguese by mid 2020. They’re also looking into an audio book project in several languages, including German.

Elio Andrés Rodríguez explains that one of the marketing options they have explored is to take physical copies to Venezuelan areperas blooming all over the world. “It’s a huge opportunity. It will undoubtedly serve as an important channel, since there are over a thousand, in 60 countries. Where there’s an arepera, there are Venezuelans and we hope to get the book there,” he says.