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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

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ORAL HISTORY

Bruce Ucan


The Mayan Cafe

The Yucatán is renowned for its tropical flavors and slow-roasted meats, like cochinita pibil which involves pig, sour oranges, and a lot of chile rub. The state is also renowned for dishes with a direct connection to the Mayas. In the United States, the cuisine can be hard to find outside of Los Angeles and San Francisco, the hubs of the Yucateco diaspora. Bruce Ucán was born and raised in Kantunil, Yucatan in 1968, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1987 after meeting the woman who became his wife, an American University of Louisville student touring the Yucatan.

Bruce Ucan served Yucateco cuisine as a caterer, from a food truck, and since 1996 at The Mayan Café, located in the East Market neighborhood. His menu features dishes like salbutes, freshly-made fried corn tortillas topped with everything from rabbit to black beans, and roasted lima beans. He obtains ingredients such as annatto (a chile used for seasoning and coloring) and Seville oranges for marinades from his native state.

The success of the Mayan Caf√© was never guaranteed for Bruce Ucan. During the mid-1990s when he worked catering trucks at festivals, sales lagged. ‚ÄúPeople were¬†afraid, like they don’t know what it was.¬†And they said, ‚ÄėWhy don’t you put a lot of cheese on it?‚Äô‚ÄĚ But Bruce Uc√°n stayed true to his vision, telling them even then, ‚ÄúNo, this is how it is.‚ÄĚ

**

El Yucatán es famoso en todo México por sus sabores tropicales y carnes asadas lentamente, como la cochinita pibil hecho de cerdo, naranjas agrias, y un montón de achiote. El estado también es famoso por los platos con una conexión directa a los mayas. En los Estados Unidos, la cocina puede ser difícil de encontrar fuera de Los Angeles y San Francisco, los centros de la diáspora Yucateco. Bruce Ucán nació y se crió en Kantunil, Yucatán en 1968, y se trasladó a Louisville, Kentucky en 1987 después de conocer a la mujer que se sería en su esposa, una estudiante norteamericana de la Universidad de Louisville que estaba viajando por el Yucatán.

Bruce Ucan sirv√≠o comida Yucateco cuando ten√≠a una empresa de catering, de una lonchera, y desde 1996 en el Mayan Caf√©, ubicado en el vecindario East Market. Su men√ļ ofrece platos como salbutes, tortillas de ma√≠z fritas reci√©n hechas coronado con todo desde el conejo a frijoles negros, y las habas tostadas. Obtiene ingredientes de su estado natal como el achiote (un chile utilizado para sazonar y colorante) y naranjas de Sevilla para adobos.

El √©xito de la Maya Caf√© nunca fue garantizada para Bruce Ucan. En esta entrevista, recuerda la creaci√≥n de un cami√≥n de catering para uno de los muchos festivales del Kentucky Derby. A mediados de la d√©cada de 1990 cuando trabajaba en los festivales, no hab√≠a muchas ventas de comida. “La gente ten√≠a miedo, como que no sab√≠an lo que era. Y ellos dijeron: ‘¬ŅPor qu√© no te pones un mont√≥n de queso en √©l?’ “Pero Uc√°n se mantuvo fiel a su visi√≥n, dici√©ndoles que incluso entonces, “No, esto es lo que es.”

Date of interview:
2015-02-09

Interviewer:
Gustavo Arellano

Photographer:
Delilah Snell

Download Transcript Download Transcript 2

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