Honoring family, faith and memories

Chanhassen Villager, October 2012 -article by Unsie Zuege.  St. Louis University history teacher Dr. Miller would be proud of his former student Amalia Moreno-Damgaard.

The way she describes cuisine — placing foods and their ingredients into context with history, culture and regional influences — engages the listener. It’s the way Dr. Miller taught a graduate history class to international business students like Moreno-Damgaard.

Moreno-Damgaard said she has never forgotten his simple and easy manner of engaging his students, not teaching so much from a textbook as much teaching history through the telling of stories. What could have been dry and impersonal facts, became compelling dialogues.

Moreno-Damgaard is a food culture educator. Not only is she a Le Cordon Bleu-trained professional chef, she brings her passion for her native Guatemalan culture and cuisine to her cooking classes. Students not only learn authentic Guatemalan and other Latin American dishes, but as she prepares a dish, she describes Guatemala and Latin America and how they’ve been influenced by Mayan and Spanish cultures.

She’s just published her first cookbook “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen,” which is being published and distributed by Beaver’s Pond Press.

Foodies will have an opportunity to meet Moreno-Damgaard, cook with her and buy her cookbook on Nov. 1 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, in honor of El Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

Celebrating Day of the Dead might sound macabre to Midwesterners, but for Mexicans and Latinos, it is a celebration of family, memories and heritage.

The Guatemalan native has a masters degree in international business and met her Danish-born husband when both were college students in the U.S. Their professional careers in banking have taken them to a variety of cities in the United States. They live in Eden Prairie and have a son. More than 10 years ago, after a successful career in international marketing and sales, Moreno-Damgaard took a step back to re-examine her life goals. What mattered most to her, she realized, was her faith, her family and her culture.

At about the same time she learned that the Le Cordon Bleu Paris was opening its first American school in Minneapolis/St. Paul. She enrolled and graduated in 2004. At that point, students usually pursue a career in the industry or open their own restaurant, Moreno-Dagaard said. But she decided to be more strategic.

She sought to incorporate her experience from years of marketing products to international banks and her love of diverse cultures with her professional culinary skills. She created a niche as a food culture educator. She’s created a vibrant career combining her love of sharing Guatemalan cuisine and other Latin American cuisines and influences with her passion for introducing Guatemalan heritage and history to a greater audience.

She teaches Guatemalan and Latin American cuisine and culture classes throughout the Twin Cities, including the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

At the upcoming Arboretum event, Moreno-Damgaard will prepare a Day of the Dead holiday dish called “fiambre.” Fiambre is similar to Italian antipasto, with an assortment of ingredients that is served as an entree.

Fiambre usually takes several days to prepare and is made of cold cuts, seafood, chicken, marinated vegetables, capers, olives, beans, cheese and more, blended with spices and marinades.

“Fiambre is not difficult to make,” Moreno-Damgaard said. “It just takes advance planning and plenty of helping hands. When Guatemalans make fiambre, they always make lots of it for themselves and to share with friends and relatives.

“It’s an opportunity to be together and as we are dicing, slicing and chopping, we are remembering childhood and our families,” Moreno-Damgaard said. “This is what fiambre is all about in Guatemala — paying respects to the dead, sharing good memories, and spending quality time with family and close friends.”


El Día de los Muertos 2012

Day of the Dead: Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, Latin America, and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died

Arboretum event: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1,  at the Oswald Visitor Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Celebrate this Guatemalan holiday with chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard. She will share her journey as a chef, describe cultural customs and demonstrate how to create fiambre, a Guatemalan 48-ingredient dish. Damgaard will also sign copies of her new book, “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen.” Bato-Bato marimba band will perform. Cash bar.

Cost: $25 members, $35 non-members,

Info:www.arboretum.umn.edu/DayoftheDead.aspx; (952) 443-1422

Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

Home: Eden Prairie

Education: Executive masters degree in International Business and Culture and Le Cordon Bleu graduate and worldwide travels.

Profession: Author, professional chef and founder of Amalia-Latin Gourmet with a Cultural Flair (www.AmaliaLLC.com)

Family: Husband, Kenn, and son Jens

Background: Born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, moved to the United States at 19 to attend college. First career in international banking for almost 20 years. Second career started after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in 2004. Co-founded Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota and is president of this non-profit organization that fosters women entrepreneurship (www.wemn.org). On the boards of Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota, Le Cordon Bleu Alumni Association, Common Hope and Southwest Metro Magazine.

Favorite cookbooks/chefs: Julia Child and my grandmother.

Favorite Food Network program or celebrity chef: I don’t watch the Food Network. I enjoy PBS cooking shows like America’s Test Kitchens.

Well-known chef with whom you would love to cook or trade recipes: Rene Redzepi of Noma, head chef of the world’s best restaurant (winner 3 years in a row). Noma is in Copenhagen, Denmark, where my husband is from.

Favorite food craving: When I crave sweets, I like fresh fruit. Favorites are tangerines, red seedless grapes, peaches, cherries and green and ripe mangoes.


Posted in  on Monday, October 22, 2012 2:16 pm. Updated: 1:28 pm.