Continued from page 1

Part of the inspiration behind “Project Paladar” was to support Cuba’s budding foodie culture.

“The idea that people still cared about food and cuisine and still tried hard despite having no market for it was fascinating,” Shillitto said.

Jenkins brought down her own cooking knives, as well as ingredients that would seem exotic not just in Cuba but in many American kitchens: kaffir lime leaf, Szechuan peppercorns, a quarter-wheel of Grana Padano cheese (it’s like Parmesan, only made in a different part of Italy).

Anita Lo, executive chef and owner of Annisa, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the West Village, stuffed her suitcase with white soy and yuzu juice for her cooking partner, one of the few Cuban chefs making sushi.

“For someone to push ahead and still try to do something that’s almost impossible on this island …” Lo marveled, her voice trailing off. “Fish is hard to come by. Japanese ingredients are very hard to come by.”

For all their sophistication, the New Yorkers, including several of whom have written books and appeared on cooking shows such as Iron Chef America, are also learning from the Cubans.

How to make do with what’s available, for one thing. The Americans also had high praise for urban gardening in Havana, a local agroponic farm they visited where crops are grown without soil and a leafy, nutrient-rich green known as “maringa.” Jenkins described it as “slightly citrusy with a weird spice … and an undercurrent of bitterness.”

“Whether we’ll ever see it again,” she said, “to taste something new and like it and think it’s interesting and how can you use it … it’s fascinating.”

Organizers said they hope the project may create opportunities for future culinary exchanges, perhaps a chef-in-residence program. More such exchanges have occurred since President Barack Obama loosened rules on so-called people-to-people travel to the island by Americans.

Curator Elizabeth Grady said “Project Paladar” is in a long tradition of food-related art projects and tries to invert the elitist dynamic of art festivals by inviting dishwashers and taxi drivers to sup alongside the well-heeled art enthusiasts who typically patronize events like the biennial. It also gets people from two feuding nations talking to each other, even if haltingly or through translators.

“The main point is to use food as a vehicle to create genuine dialogue,” she said.

Call it kitchen diplomacy.