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THE CHEF

ANAMARIS COUSINS PRICE

@secretopopup

For everything that's happening in the world right now, Covid included, people, I think, have realized how important other people are to them and how important it is to support each other. Having things is not what makes us happy or better. It’s the things that we get to share and experience with others.  

Photo © Amy C. Evans, 2020

ANAMARIS COUSINS PRICE is is originally from Panama City, Panama. She first visited Houston to attend a friend’s wedding and moved here in 1989, right before the United States invaded Panama to oust Manuel Noriega. “It was a little weird at first, being Hispanic but being Black,” Anamaris remembers about her early days in the Bayou City. “People thirty years ago didn’t know what to make of that.”

 

Thirty years ago, it was also difficult for Anamaris to find Panamanian food in Houston or even source ingredients for cooking. She found some things at her neighborhood Fiesta grocery store, known for its Latin imports. But for other things

for other things, Anamaris had to adapt, which is what inspired her to start a blog and document her journey. She called it Chef It Yourself, and her goal was to not only teach people how to cook Panamanian food, but to Latinize familiar recipes, adding a unique twist. 

Anamaris did not study to be a chef; family training was her formal training. Instead, she studied business and marketing and landed a job at a prominent oil and gas corporation. After a few years in the marketing department, she was recognized for her interpersonal skills and was recruited within the company to serve as an ombudsman, acting as an intermediary for company concerns requiring careful conflict resolution. Anamaris spent the next fourteen years in this role. After long days in the corporate world, cooking was her escape. Anamaris updated her blog in her spare time, but Chef It Yourself was no longer enough. She realized that what she was missing was the satisfaction of cooking for other people.

 

The Secreto Pop-up series began as a way for Anamaris to host intimate dinner parties and have the experience of witnessing people enjoying her food in the moment. She hosted these monthly pop-up dinners in her Third Ward home, selling tickets via Eventbrite and other online platforms. Word spread and some of her customers quickly became regulars. Anamaris daydreamed about her hobby becoming a full-time business, but she could never quite pull herself away from the comfort of a salaried nine-to-five.

 

Then Covid-19 hit.

 

Anamaris was let go from her corporate job on May 5, 2020, less than two months into the pandemic. She took some time to assess her situation and quickly realized that this was her chance to really pursue her passion. But since Anamaris could no longer host in-person dinners, she found another way to feed her clientele: homemade food to go. She spent the rest of the pandemic cooking weekly meals, selling items a la carte on her website, offering them for pick up at her home every Tuesday or hand-delivered on Wednesday. Anamaris still missed the dinner parties, though, so she made the pandemic pivot: she went online. Her virtual dinner parties brought people together on Zoom, where they heated and plated Anamaris’ dishes at home but enjoyed the multiple courses together, apart. People oohed and ahhed over each dish, asked Anamaris questions, and shared their pandemic experiences, always making sure to mention that this kind of virtual gathering with friends and strangers was a fine substitute for the much-needed fellowship that was sorely lacking in their otherwise isolated pandemic lives.

 

After almost two years of Covid-19 and its variants, Anamaris is still sharing her culinary artistry, continuing to offer weekly meals, and she's finally been able to offer a select few in-person dinners by hosting small pop-ups at Star Sailor bar in the Heights. She’s also expanded her virtual offerings to include cooking classes, as well as demos for corporate clients—an unexpected marriage of her former job with her current passion. But Anamaris is still anxious for things to get back to normal so that she can play hostess again.

 

“Cooking for people is how I say I love you,” Anamaris said in her first interview from August 2020. “I'm just happy to have a gift that nurtures other people because some people don't have that.”