Great praise for To Cook Is to Love

I sent advance “review” copies of To Cook Is to Love, to a very diverse group of first readers. See what they had to say.

A masterpiece! I love the book—such an entertaining and informative read; in such a fun presentation. I ESPECIALLY liked the food histories. There is so much “blind” eating in our culture. Food is so important—it literally and figuratively makes us who we are. We evolved with these ingredients—they are part of us, as we are of them.

—Joseph J. Baker, Jr. MD, MPH, Internal Medicine, Fenway Health Center


To Cook Is to Love is a wonderfully packaged and entertaining compendium of deliciously configured Cuban recipes for a calorie conscious public. Chock full of cooking tips and anecdotes about Cuban life in America, it is not only an outstanding guide to the cuisine, but homage to the culture itself—a book to be read and cherished by everyone.

—Oscar Hijuelos, Novelist—author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Our House in the Last World, and many others.


Chef Johnny’s Nuevo Cuban cuisine cookbook, To Cook Is to Love, is about love affairs. Woven into biographical stories are the panoply of Cuban recipes, from appetizers to desserts and cocktails, often with suggestions on how to make the dishes a little healthier, less dependent on salt, fat and processed foods. Having had many of his dishes, I can unequivocally say Chef Johnny’s food is delicious! The recipes are clearly explained and include suggestions of alternative ingredients and adaptations encouraging personal creativity, a tribute to Chef Johnny’s experimental approach to food. The book itself is beautifully crafted with photos and images of pre-Revolutionary Cuban memorabilia. Interspersed throughout the book are interesting bits of information, such as how to choose an avocado, wine pairings and marinating.

More than anything, To Cook Is to Love is Chef Johnny’s homage to a remarkable woman, Mami Aida, his Cuban mother-in-law. Her story is beautifully told, often in her own words, and is inspirational and life affirming. In the end love conquers all, and cooking with love is one of the means to happiness. Chef Johnny’s cookbook will help you get there!!

—Maria Lopez, Former Massachusetts Superior Court Judge and Television Personality


Reading To Cook Is to Love, is like traveling back and forth in time. It is so much more than a cookbook; part memoir, part eulogy for a lost paradise, and part Medal of Honor for Mami Aida. After I made the picadillo (always my go-to favorite) with maduros and yuca, I sat down to read her history, and didn’t get back up again until I had finished. She is an inspiration to people everywhere, but especially to those of us who still live with one foot on the island of Cuba. This is not nostalgia for a lost Eden, but a story of surviving and thriving, and bringing the best part of your history into your present.

So much of my love for Cuba is bound up in the food that I ate in my mother’s kitchen. I have a way to keep that alive for my daughter now.

—Melinda Lopez, Author of Sonia Flew and Becoming Cuba


I liked formatting for “foolproofing” recipes… made the recipes easy to follow and prepare. The heart symbol is very useful in highlighting recipes that can be modified for “heart health.” People have gotten away from cooking in general and it can seem overwhelming to start cooking from scratch again. The recipe shortcuts make it more doable. Your use of fresh ingredients/whole foods vs. processed is an important step… The use of nonfat/lowfat dairy and olive/canola oil make the recipes healthier. To Cook Is to Love offers a wide variety of recipes for anyone interested in Cuban cuisine!

—Lillian Sonnenberg, DSc, RD, Assistant Director, Community Nutrition, Massachusetts General Hospital


In To Cook Is to Love, John Verlinden not only makes Latin cuisine accessible to health conscious busy American home cooks, but he masterfully validates the sustaining power of cooking to anchor family and cultural roots across generations and geography. He proves to be great chef, storyteller, biographer, and nutritionist all at once.

He introduces us to Nuevo Cuban cuisine through the stories of his mother-in-law, Aida Mondejar. He invites us into her kitchen and keeps us there, spellbound, from her first Arroz con Pollo as a 17 year old adoring bride, to her days as a wise and successful entrepreneur and raconteur at Mucho Gusto Cafe in Boston. In between we get to know a courageous and inspiring woman, who leveraged her cooking skills to preserve her dignity, gain her independence and raise two successful children against all odds. We learn not only how to make Pork Fricassee and Ropa Vieja, but about healthy ingredients, the origin of spices, and what wine to serve and music to listen to while we cook. More importantly, we learn about life and survival. This book is a useful guide to healthy cooking, successful entertaining, positive thinking and family loyalty. It will fill both your kitchen and your heart.

—Micho Spring, Chairperson of Global Corporate Practice and President of New England Operations, Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Inc.


As a child of Miami, one of the things I missed the most when I relocated to Boston was Cuban food. So when Mucho Gusto opened in 1995, I crossed my fingers. On my first visit I was transported to SW Eight Street with a little bit of the Tropical Park Flea Market thrown in. ‘Ropa vieja, maduros, arroz con pollo’—I was back in my neighbor, Olga’s, kitchen. John has recreated the recipes from the restaurant and dotted his pages with love for not only the food but a Cuba from another time. I loved the pictures and memories almost as much as the ‘pierna de puerco asada.’

—Al Stankus, Former editor of the Boston Zagat Restaurant Survey, longtime, now retired, food writer for the Boston Herald and Community Newspaper Group and co-author of Jazz Cooks: Portraits and Recipes of the Greats


An incredible book, I loved it. To Cook Is to Love is not JUST about delicious and nutritious recipes. It is about finding the history of food, it is about learning substitutions for healthier eating, and it is about realizing that one cannot separate food and eating from personal experiences and relationships.
For me To Cook Is to Love conveys and captures three important messages:
• Recipes are an important part of culture passed down from one generation to another. As a Latina my warmest memories of Arroz con pollo are in my grandmother’s home on Sundays.
• Latin cuisine is delicious, colorful, flavorful AND is extremely healthy when one pays attention to the ingredients.
• We can shop wisely on a budget. Eating healthy and good is possible even when we do not have a lot of money.
If the reader is only interested in “Nuevo Cuban recipes” she will find them in this “cookbook” but for the real experience I would encourage her to read the entire book.

—Carmen Vega-Barachowitz, Chair Committee for Latino Initiatives, Massachusetts General Hospital


Very impressed with this novel approach to a cookbook!
It’s not just another cookbook but a unique mixture of practical and authentic Cuban recipes interspersed with the biography of their source, a self-taught and exceptional woman whose life really sheds light on the Revolution and its impact on the Cuban people.

—Bob Vila, Author and Television Personality, Original Host of “This Old House”

To Cook Is to Love In The Boston Globe Magazine

The Sunday Boston Globe Magazine featured delicious recipes from To Cook Is to Love.

Nuevo Cuban in The Boston Glove Magazine

Prepare a place at your table for To Cook Is to Love

Upcoming book will take foodies on a journey into healthier Latin cooking

Longtime Boston-based chef John Verlinden serves up his own healthier, modernized version of traditional Latin cooking, while also taking readers on a classic immigration adventure, in his upcoming book, To Cook Is to Love.

“This is not your grandmother’s cookbook,” says Verlinden. “Equal parts conversation, cookbook and memoir, it’s like My Dinner with Andre meets The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook meets The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.”

Verlinden spices up the book by interweaving nearly 200 recipes focused around his specialty, “Nuevo Cuban cuisine,” with the engaging, insightful anecdotes of his culinary inspiration—his Cuban-born mother-in-law, Aida Mondejar (“Mama Aida”), who journeyed to the United States in the mid-1950’s in pursuit of the American dream.

The book is truly a labor of love for Verlinden, a food writer and educator who has specialized in Latin/Island cuisine for the past 18 years and served as the co-owner of the award-winning Mucho Gusto Café & Collectibles— “the first Cuban-American restaurant in the heart of Boston”—from 1995 to 2000.

“When it came to making Latin Food my own, my goal has been to create lighter, healthier versions of traditional recipes, while preserving those wonderful original flavors,” Verlinden said. “My Nuevo Cuban cuisine celebrates the great diversity of healthy ingredients that are essential components of the cuisine.”

Loaded with information about the origins and nourishing qualities of the diverse ingredients in Latin cuisine, To Cook Is to Love explains how to select, prepare and use less understood but nutritionally powerful ingredients like tropical fruits and root vegetables and presents creative ways to incorporate legumes, rice and other healthy staples into our diets.

Sidebars and information boxes provide the reader with fun facts and nutritional information about key ingredients in Latin food—their origins, where to find them, what to look for when purchasing, how to prepare them and why making them a part of one's regular diet will be good for their health.

Adding to its nostalgic flavor is an array of pre-revolutionary Cuban memorabilia, old advertising and vintage graphics - amassed over 20 years of collecting—that have been professionally photographed for the book.

“Ultimately, my goal with this book is to make Nuevo Cuban cuisine easily accessible to every cook,” says Verlinden.

To Cook Is to Love will make its flavorful debut this Spring.

About John Verlinden

John Verlinden is a chef, food educator and writer who started cooking the summer he turned 12 years old. He honed his craft by working in many restaurants and other food businesses in nearly every capacity—from dishwasher, to busboy, to waiter, to bartender, to chef to owner. Along with his life partner, Oz Mondejar, he owned and operated a popular Cuban-American restaurant, Mucho Gusto Café & Collectibles, in Boston from 1995 to 2000. Among the honors the restaurant received were Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston”, The Improper Bostonian’s “Boston’s Best”, and Hispanic Magazine’s “Top 50 Hispanic Restaurants in the U.S.” A passion advocate for healthier Latin cooking, Verlinden has participated in a variety of culinary training programs for adults and children. He also maintains a popular blog on his website and produces a food column for a local newspaper.