Chef Yadira Stamp runs a catering business,
writes cookbooks, a monthly newsletter, and volunteers.
We asked her how she does it all.
In her native Panama, Yadira studied electronics at an all-boys technical high school and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. She earned a degree in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science and Robotics on a full scholarship in the United States. Yadira credits her father for encouraging her to pursue her dream, and her mother, who was always giving and volunteering, for teaching her to be humble, to remember her blessings, and to “give back.” After an apprenticeship program at NASA she became a Technical Analyst and Designer of banking systems, traveling the world. She worked in Asia, Central and South America, and Europe for more than two decades. Everywhere she lived, she sought out people in the countryside, sampling the authentic food and culture in the outskirts of the cities. In 2012, Chef Yadira founded Esencias Panameñas in Washington, DC—one of only a handful of Panamanian food businesses in the United States. Esencias Panameñas serves authentic Panamanian cuisine and is the only Panamanian catering company in the USA to offer its food nationwide.
"I just do! I am a very determined person and when I say I am going to do something, I do it and don't come up with excuses or pretext. As for the newsletter, yes, I do it all - I come up with the topics, research and write the content and come up with the trivia questions. "
10% of net sales proceeds from September to December, equaling $1,423, are donated to World Central Kitchen (WCK), to feed the people in Ukraine and in other countries in need. Ukrainians eat lots of beets, potatoes, and beans. I fell in love with borscht – beet soup. Our Panamanian potato salad is similar to the Russian potato salad – potatoes and beets. A bomb destroyed the warehouse in Ukraine where the food was stored, and we had to work with what we retrieved from rubble until we got more supplies. My small contribution was to teach the team to make hojaldres — a flat fried bread that we eat in Panama for breakfast — and onion stew. I also taught them to prepare salo (cured fatback) a product that is important because it can withstand long-term storage.
180 hours volunteered, of which 150 were spent in Ukraine. I joined World Central Kitchen (WCK) back in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in the northeastern Carribean. At the time I still had the restaurant in DC open and I could not just shut down. So I held various events at the restaurant (sip and paint, salsa dancing, karaoke, open mic) and donated 100% of the proceeds of the events and 10% of the proceeds of the restaurant. Once I closed the restaurant in 2019, I promised myself that I would volunteer in person in the future rather than just make a financial contribution. There are about 1,000 cities that have volunteers in WCK, and there were 200 volunteers in my group. I was the first Black woman who volunteered overseas with WCK. I stayed in Rzeszow, about an hour from the kitchen. Volunteers are responsible for their own housing and transportation but I stayed with a group who shared expenses.
I worked in the back of house; did not deal with the people because I don’t speak Polish or Ukrainian. As part of the volunteer team, I helped prepare hundreds of thousands of hot, fresh meals each day that were served to those who were close by and able to pick them up. I also packed large grocery kits with ingredients to feed a family for about a week. These were loaded onto trucks to deliver to 1,000 cities and towns inside Ukraine, to people that were afraid to go outside– making sure they had food to eat.
The pots in the kitchen were humongous; some were large enough that I could lay in them like a bed. It was impossible to use regular cooking utensils. Instead, we used paddles to stir the pots. In fact, some pots required several people to hold and stir.
In November 2022 Esencias Panameñascelebrated its 10th anniversary, and I celebrated my 60th birthday. My last visit to Panama was in 2011 to complete my externship prior to graduating with a culinary arts degree. I have no family there or here, so it is me, myself and I. I was forced to close the restaurant before Covid because my rent had increased to an impossible amount and four months later I lost everything in my home in an electrical fire. I resumed my business in December 2019, making Panamanian goodies for Christmas. Burying myself in preparing holiday treats got me out of my depression.
I have been working out of a commercial shared kitchen for my catering business, and my goal is to find another location to resume the restaurant. I miss the personal interaction with customers.
I am currently working on a second cookbook that will include more Panamanian dishes to complement the most requested recipes in my book, Panama on A Plate.
For the longest time, I have wanted to compete on Chopped but was afraid of having shellfish as an ingredient, because of my allergies. Chopped has now made changes to accommodate religious groups, nationality, allergies, etc., making it easier to compete. I am also interested in Supermarket Stakeout and Beat Bobby Flay. I watch all of the Bobby Flay shows to figure out his weaknesses (especially desserts). I watch the Food Network, and also Aspire, and Cleo, the African-American channels with African-American and Afro-Latino chefs and cooking shows.
Another goal is to have Panamanian food items in major retail stores. Right now I am the only shipper of Panamanian goodies to all fifty states. I am also looking into working with Black Business Accelerator programs. My vision is to have my own TV cooking show, to teach both the food as well as the business side of cooking, and to become a culinary business consultant, helping aspiring women culinary entrepreneurs.
Many thought I was crazy for making the trip; others thought I was courageous. I am neither! I just believe in paying it forward and helping whenever and however I can.
You do not have to join an organization to help others; neither do you have to travel abroad. You can channel the spirit of helping and bringing hope and dignity to your neighbors, one plate of food at a time.
Please donate to World Central Kitchen to help them continue serving hundreds of thousands of meals to those in need every day.
Adobo seasoningan all-purpose dry spice blend, consisting of paprika, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and turmeric, widely used in Caribbean cooking.
Maggi sauce is a fermented condiment is made from various ingredients, including tamarind, vinegar, molasses, anchovies, and spices.
For the yuca: Cut yuca into small pieces. Place yuca in a pot with 2 liters (2 quarts) of water and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Do not overcook or it will get mushy. Drain yuca and let stand for 5 minutes to cool. Remove spine in the center with a peering knife. Grind yuca in a grinder (or food processor). Add oil and salt to the ground yuca and knead to make a dough.
2. For the filling: While the yuca is cooking, begin preparing filling. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and add oil. Add the onion and green peppers and cook until onions are translucent. Remove from skillet. Place ground beef in skillet and cook until no pink is visible. Add cooked onions and green peppers to cooked beef and add remaining ingredients and stir. Turn heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes to ensure that paste is cooked out. Strain cooked beef until all moisture is removed, and allow to cool.
3. To assemble and cook: Divide yuca dough into equal portions pof about 30 ml (2 tablespoons) each. Form each into small bowl shape and fill with two 10 ml (2 teaspoons) of ground beef. Close the top of dough like a purse and seal and shape like a football. Place into a pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
4. To cook, heat the oil for frying in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 177°C (350°F). Working in batches, fry the carimanolas until crispy and golden brown, for about 3 minutes per batch; if using a saucepan, turn the balls as needed to ensure even browning, . Drain on a paper towel-lined plate before serving.
Tips for frying carimañolas
Carimañolas tend to have a mind of their own. Below are a few tips to make sure when making and when ready to fry:
Make sure that the ends of your carimañolas are pointed and not rounded
Do not overcook the yuca, it will make the dough too soft and will not withstand the heat from the oil when frying
Do not overcrowd the pan, that will cause the temperature to lower causing a soggy carimañola that could possibly pop open
An Afro Latina native of Panama City, Panama, Yadira Stamp is an Executive Chef, Caterer, Instructor, speaker, and culinarian. She specializes in global cuisine which encapsulates the flavors of Panama, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Chef Yadira volunteers with the Latino Education of Washington, DC, to mentor Hispanic Women in the food industry; ‘N Street Village’, a community of empowerment and recovery for women; ‘DC Central Kitchen’, and ‘World Central Kitchen’, to assist in preparing food for the needy.