Alina Hernandez is a former journalist and public relations maven living in New Orleans. She has worked for newspapers across the country as a writer and editor. When she is not planting in her kitchen garden, she's searching out the next great local restaurant.
Tell us a little about your writing background.
A writer and editor for more than 28 years, I cut my teeth in journalism first in small Louisiana newspapers, where all those little things like recipes and Little League mattered.
I wrote everything from the farmers’ outlook for Louisiana sugar cane, to scandals involving the crawfish farms at the local university (Agriculture is big in this state).
I moved on to larger newsrooms, and out of Louisiana, where I turned more to hard news – crime, foreign affairs, and national politics. I lived and worked in newsrooms in Boston, Los Angeles, South Florida and central Florida. Eventually, my experience in writing foreign news and politics led me to move online, as the print industry shrunk. It was hard to leave what I loved, but over time, I found another passion.
I moved on to the University of Central Florida in public relations. There, I was not hawking Ritz crackers or Clorox Bleach. I was writing about things that mattered: first generation students rising to improve their lot, research that helped change treatment for PTSD, inclusion programs for students with Down’s syndrome. I reinvented myself in public relations, and I still wrote every day.
Today, I am at Tulane University, working as the Communications Director for the Law School. I love it. I work with people who change lives, fix injustice, and keep Democracy alive. I write every day. I use journalism every day. And it is great for my soul.
Do you believe that being a writer helps you enjoy or appreciate food more?
How many of your friends look at food and start to think about how they can describe that color and taste and consistency to their friends? I am that friend.
When we started building our kitchen garden, I started writing about it very informally on my Instagram page, sharing how we built the raised beds, problems with a lack of pollinators, and, of course, the purchase of my worm farm.
Of late, I do videos sharing what is going on with the crazy worms, how my pollinators have returned, and how eggplants give me joy. I don’t have a natural journalistic outlet to write about food, which is why I am here.
But it is clear that because I am a journalist, I have a point-of-view about food, and I can tell the story of my food, my experience in ways others can’t. When you are a storyteller, you can tell a story about anything.
Do you ever travel for food?
We did a tour of Chicago just to go to Girl and the Goat. They are booked solid for weeks on end, so we took the “chef’s table” offer from the host. We knew what that meant. We literally sat on barstools, at a butcher-block countertop, and let the back-end staff give us extra plates of whatever they were making. Best day, ever.
We’ve done a tour of south Louisiana’s best Acadian places, and of course, we spent a weekend strategically hitting every foodie neighborhood that we could in New York, because doesn’t everyone do that? Finally, as a Cuban immigrant, do not bother going anywhere but Versailles in Little Havana for the best Cuban food on the planet.
Do you ever grow your own food?
We have the coolest kitchen garden we designed in a nasty side yard, and it’s really taking off!
I find myself late in the evenings sorting and hunting for heirloom seeds to try out there, and right now, I am most excited about the tiny melons from India and some broad beans from London.
I am also geekishly following every UK-based “allotment” influencer because they have the most amazing tips on growing food in small spaces.
Do you enjoy creating budget-friendly meals?
With two kids in private schools, and being foodies, we do amazing meals at affordable prices. Believe it or not, we get some of our veggies from locally sourced farmers, we have discovered the “food salvage” establishments that carry high-end brands at ridiculously low prices and we hit farmers’ markets for fresh and affordable treats, like homemade boudin sausage.
Do you ever focus on healthy food?
Increasingly, and with a family member suffering from diabetes, we are seeking low-carb and low-sugar options. We have made our own low-sugar jellies and jams, and we are growing plant-based sugar substitutes like Stevia.
Are you able to support local food in New Orleans?
New Orleans is my food mecca. I have friends who are chefs, cousins who hunt boar, a colleague who moonlights as a Lavender farmer, and a husband who lives on the water. There is a revolution here for sustainability and the protection of estuaries and other food sources, and we are part of it, in our own small way.
Do you have any favorite cookbooks or kitchen products?
I would take my food processor to a deserted island and invent electricity just to keep using it. It's my savior in making the most amazing pesto, the smoothest veggie-based sauces, and the start of some interesting breads.
I love colanders of all sizes, because I love cleaning my food in something pretty and serving it, washed, right there for the taking.
I love chef Kevin Belton locally – his style is homegrown New Orleans. My oldest cookbook is Julia Child; my most treasured is Cuba’s Nitza Villapol’s “Cocina al Minuto,” which was given to me by my mom on my wedding day, as every other Cuban mother does for her daughter. If I want Cuban food, I go there.
I love Wolfgang Puck for the expected fare, and I love Chef Ferran Adria of Spain, for his delicious take on Mediterranean and Spanish food.
In addition, I am grateful to the person who invented the potato peeler (and I am fussy about mine) and I cannot live without my Cutco knives.
Do you have any favorite food writers or TV shows?
We seem to watch a lot of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives because that's more our style – go where the locals go eat. I will read any food and travel pieces, but I do not follow many specific writers. I'm spending more time following those who grow food.
Where do you turn for great food or food inspiration?
The French Quarter and Uptown New Orleans. In a two-mile stretch, I can find the most dynamic seafood restaurants, Indian, Ethiopian, Cajun, French provincial, Irish, African, Thai, Israeli, Vietnamese. When I am bored with whatever I can make, I head out and explore. In New Orleans, every place is good. You do not make it here if your food is not great.
What do you eat when you're on deadline?
Hummus. It is my go-to for protein and deliciousness.
Anything you’d like to add about being a writer who loves food?
Loving food is one thing, but what is great food if you cannot share it? This is why I am remiss if I don’t mention that all my food adventures are eagerly fueled and often instigated by my partner in crime, my New Orleans-born and raised husband.
There is something wonderful about planning these adventures, and then plotting how we will share the experience with friends via our social media networks.
We conspire to cook a dinner and then relish the results of working together and sharing our space with those we love. It is not about attention, but it is about sharing love through food, even if we are hundreds of miles apart from our friends.
When people visit us, we share our love by dragging them to every favorite restaurant, despite the traffic, the wait, and the parking issues – because it is, how we love.
Therefore, for me, this is an excellent chance to expand that love to anyone who shares the passion for food.