Sunday, July 12, 2015

Inside The Kitchen of Chef Norma Torres

Chef Norma Torres
Photograph by Ashley Rose
Norma Torres is a chef with an amazing sensitivity of the world and precise culinary skills.  Her main ingredients are love, passion, charisma, loads of humor, amazing flavors, and a rich inheritance of recipes well guarded by her mother and grandmother back in her native Puerto Rico.  All these elements are what make her food lively and original.  Simply put, upon entering a Puerto Rican kitchen, a very common expression when delighted with the aroma of the delicious food being prepared is “¡Ay Dios mio, que rico!” (Oh my God, how delicious!)  And the expression fits perfectly in chef Norma’s kitchen.   
When Norma was in her early twenties, she developed an ocean’s depth of passion for cooking and nurturing.  We can all agree that food is always a good answer to everything, and in Norma’s home, food was the rule.  So she poured her heart into cooking delectable dishes for family and friends adding just a touch of innovation, or as she calls them “twists” to traditional recipes.  They were “inventions” in the kitchen and although the recipes were not always successful, they were genuinely authentic.  Norma loved food and remained constant as she discovered new, fresh ingredients.  Slowly, errors in the kitchen were turned into inspiration and creativity for her own signature dishes.  A personal stamp on her recipes can be compared to that of a songwriter to a song.  The process runs along the same lines.

Just like many professional chefs, Norma began discovering world cuisine and for her, mastering her culinary skills became an obsession.  Sometimes her humor came through and expletives (latina style) might have dashed out when a dish didn’t turn out as expected.  But when a dish was perfect she moaned with sensuous approval, “I just hit a ‘G’ spot on my palate… so good… sooo good!”

Apart from her culinary creations, Norma is a mother, a grandmother, a friend, and a lovely wife (lucky caballero!)  A major motivator for Norma are the expressions of content and sheer joy when a person enjoys her cooking.  “It keeps me going and it invigorates me to strive for excellence in the kitchen.”  One thing that many passionate chefs have in common is their love for sharing their creations with the world and Norma took it upon herself to write her recipes in her personal blog aptly named Plátanos, Mangoes & Me!  

“My blog started as a way to embrace my love for the three ‘F’s’… family, friends and food.”  “My goal was to create a personal album and collection of recipes that the family most enjoyed during their childhoods, particularly recipes that represent our heritage which is a mixture.  We have roots in Spain, Corsica, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Eastern Europe, Germany, Portugal and Cuba.  I’m very proud to embrace our roots, especially at the dinner table.”

Over the years, Norma’s dinner table has gotten bigger, and her cooking experiences and memories keep growing and growing.  Through food, she has managed to celebrate all of life’s ups and downs.  “There’s nothing more remarkable than food to bring the family together, especially during hard times.”   Through her personal and sincere anecdotes written on her blog, she allows her public and fans to take a peek into the passionate life of a chef at home.  She shares with her readers a journey of travels, love of food, knowledge and the pleasure of feeding people and receiving comfort and joy in return. 

Norma cherishes her childhood memories and it’s not surprising they were all food related.  It’s no wonder she became a chef!  

“I have very pleasant memories of my dad sitting me often on his lap as he drank a glass of homemade wine with homemade cheese and hot bread fresh out of the oven.  He would dunk a bit of the bread in the wine and let me savor a little morsel.  I would go to shows with my mom in Spain and instead of popcorn, we nibbled on Spanish olives from a little wooden keg and langoustines wrapped in a newspaper cone with a never ending supply of fresh crusty bread.  I remember in Venezuela enjoying arepas right off the griddle with chocolate caliente (corn cakes with hot chocolate).  We had a Sunday ritual of enjoying spaghetti and meatballs at an Italian restaurant.  The stairs to go up to the restaurant seemed so long, but when I returned many years later to that same restaurant it was funny to see that there were only five steps… but as children we dashed up so fast for the weekly treat right after Mass”. 
Bacalaítos - Puerto Rican Fried Cod Fish
Photograph by Leticia Alaniz © 2015

In Norma’s cooking she gives every dish a very personal perspective.  Many of her dishes are traditional latin cuisine with contemporary finishes and her international repertoire is artfully precise.  In addition to being a chef and owner of a successful catering business, Norma manages to lecture and teach cooking classes whenever possible in New York where she lives with her family. 

From her recipe book, chef Norma Torres shares with us a very home grown recipe of Bacalaítos direct form La Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico.  Bacalaítos are a tradition almost on par of a religious experience in the hot tropical island.  They almost compete with another Puerto Rican pastime: béisbol (baseball).  Bacalaítos are crispy cod fritters made lovingly at home by mamis just as much as they’re served up from roadside stands or beach kiosks.  Traditionally, they’re made in a round shape and many street vendors even make them in giant sizes.  Family recipes are so delicious and I’m thrilled to take a trip with Norma down her culinary memory lane.

Bacalaítos - Puerto Rican Fried Cod Fish


1 lb salted cod fish or bacalao
1 1/2 cups of flour
2 packages of Sazon Goya with Achiote
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp. baking poder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup of chopped cilantro
salt/pepper to taste
oil for frying


Rinse the cod and cut into two inch pieces.  Boil for 15 minutes to remove excess salt.  Drain all the pieces, flake and set aside.  Next, mix all the dry ingredients with water until it has the consistency of pancake batter.  If it’s too thick, just add a little more water.  Add the flaked cod and incorporate into the batter.  Heat oil until hot.  You can test the oil with a small drop of the batter.  Once it floats to the top, then it’s ready.  Drop the batter lengthwise and fry until all sides are crispy.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

All this goodness is best enjoyed with lemon or lime wedges and an ice cold beer.

“Ay Dios mío , que rico!” - Chef Norma Torres

You can visit Platanos, Mangoes & Me! at


  1. I love Norma. We have met numerous times, the shy Canadian woman and the generous New Yorker. Sadly I have never had the opportunity to sit around her table.

    1. Hi Bellini, thanks for sharing your memories with Norma. I hope you visit New York soon so that you can taste her cooking. Invite me too! :)

  2. That's a wonderful tribute to Norma. I wish I could sit at her table.

    1. Thank you Angela! Indeed Norma is a passionate cook and I'm glad she share's her knowledge and recipes. I hope you make it to one of her culinary classes.

  3. Beautiful story! Those Bacalaitos sound divine!

    1. You should try them Maureen. You will make the family happy!

  4. Norma knows her stuff. Her cooking is amazing. One of my favorites is her salmon mousse

    1. I couldn't agree with you more! I haven't tried the salmon mousse but as soon as I get a good piece of salmon, it will be next. It sounds so elegant for a party!