This interview with Orlando Vega was conducted by Tulane student, Emily Murphy as a part of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum’s New Orleans con Sabor Latino exhibit. This exhibit was the result of a joint effort by Tulane University, SoFaB, and community partners.
In Dr. Sarah Fouts’ interdisplinary seminar, Food, Migration, & Culture, Tulane students worked with Latino members of the New Orleans food industry to create a series of oral histories exploring the role of Latin culture in our city’s restaurant scene. With stories ranging from famous restauranteurs to line cooks, New Orleans con Sabor Latino demonstrates the diversity of experience within this community, as well as their vital contributions to the Big Easy.
|Read the full transcript of the oral history below|
Some of New Orleans’ biggest restaurants got their start in its unique pop-up scene. In this clip, Chef Orlando Vega explains why serving his Latin American cuisine without a brick-and-mortar location has given him a greater degree of flexibility and creativity.
Vega, who hails from a Cuban family, is the founder and co-owner of Congreso Cubano, a pop-up and catering service that serves Cuban food with a pan-Latin influence across all parts of the city. Congreso Cubano is known for specialties like traditional Cuban ropa vieja or ceviche, a plate with a more Central American flavor.
Orlando Vega, Oral History Full Text
“I guess I saw a market and I wanted to introduce my friends to that and show them how
easy that would be to make and affordable. I’ve been making Cuban food for everyone for the last 2 years anyways for fun. My name is Orlando Vega and I’m the founder and co-owner of Congresso Cubano in New Orleans.
So my family is Cuban but they were, they left Cuba or exiled or whatever word you
wanna use. They, they went through Spain. I was never allowed to go to Cuba as a child, but I, I spent a lot of my childhood in Spain.
I think when I first started I was really inspired by the historic Cuba-New Orleans
connection. I really love history. And I, that really inspired me and I dove into the
history of Cubans in New Orleans and so on. I’m not sure that it inspired the food
So, without a job, I just jumped into some pop-ups just to show people what the food was all about and I never stopped.
One Saturday we sold some sandwiches outside of the Marigny opera house and I think the next Sunday I was making croquetas out of the trunk of my car at Solo Espresso and then we got asked to do Pal’s for like 2 to 3 months and then we got given out of no where the kitchen at Hi Ho.
Our customers come from everywhere. There are people that now just recently went to Cuba and come back here and you know tell me how much they love it or how much they love ours more or give us tips or how much how much it compares. We have newcomers all the time that don’t know what Cuba’s about.
That’s one of the great things about the pop-up scene um you can put yourself in front of new people that would never you know go out of their way to find you on Yelp and live across the city and all of a sudden you’re at their favorite whiskey bar or their favorite movie theater and, and they’re down for it and you get to convert somebody. So we have clients from everywhere. We keep getting catering gigs and we’re lucky for that and we love doing it and it gives us a lot of flexibility on our menus so its nothing we’re in a rush to get out of and we really love.
But the sky’s, the sky’s the limit we’re just waiting for the right opportunity.”
Special thanks to the Tulane University Stone Center for Latin American Studies, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, and the Tulane University Center for Public Service for their assistance and support of this project.