The Bridge

05/01/2023 02:59 AM By Lisa Anderson
The Chews Letter
 Emmeline Basulto
Emmeline Basulto
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

The Bridge

Hispanic Artist Caters Comfort Food

“Growing up, I was the little girl in the kitchen watching my mom cook and waiting for a spoonful of something,” remembers Emmeline Basulto.

Today, she’s turned that “spoonful of something” into so much more.

The youngest of three children, Emmeline was born in West Palm Beach. She was still a toddler when her mother moved their family to New York City.

“My mother is from the Dominican Republic. I grew up knowing food can tell a story, share cultures, and bring people together,” says Emmeline, who wanted to be a veterinarian, not a chef, when she was young.

A Major Decision

When Emmeline was a teenager, her mother decided to move back to Florida. “I had all my friends and school and didn’t want to leave the city, so I stayed,” says Emmeline, who was 16 when she began living with her grandmother and occasionally crashing at friends’ places. 

“I had no choice but to grow up. It was tough, but I did what I had to do,” says Emmeline, who has always worked in the food and beverage industry—from Indian, Italian, and Mexican restaurants to blues clubs, bartending, mixology, and catering.

In addition to working in restaurants, Emmeline sold her abstract acrylic paintings on the street. “My last job in New York City was inside sales, working at a food distributing company. I’m a good negotiator and loved that job. I was talking to chefs all day about food and sourcing items, which helped me tremendously in my own business,” she says. “Being a great chef goes beyond good presentation: It takes managing your staff, your kitchen, and your food costs.”

A Big Move

Then, the pandemic changed everything.

“My job furloughed all their employees and told me to collect unemployment,” recalls Emmeline, who soon saw that extra money as an opportunity to leave New York. “I was getting tired of the fast pace and wanted a different environment. I always felt I was going to end up in Florida, because my family was here. It was just a matter of getting tired of the city.”

Her mother and sister encouraged her to move to Ocala where they were living, which is how Emmeline arrived here in the summer of 2020.

Not knowing exactly what she would do for work, she began exploring art opportunities. “For a small town, there was a huge art community,” says Emmeline, who was painting regularly through the lockdown.

Art, Food, and God

A big fan of the Food Network show Top Chef, Emmeline began toying with the idea of opening a sandwich shop. She realized that while there were plenty of sandwich places, there weren’t as many Hispanic food options. “A main reason I wanted to do a shop was because I know how much waste there is in the restaurant industry,” she says.

Her next step was nothing short of divinely inspired. “I had given my life to Christ and completely surrendered to Him. It was the best decision ever,” says Emmeline.  “Little by little, He exposed parts of me and gave me a platform to serve others, because He knows I love to do that.”

At the time, she was preparing for an art show on December 5, 2021, at Workspace Collective in downtown Ocala. She’d decided to cater the show herself. As she was praying about it, she clearly felt God telling her, “Feed the homeless.” Emmeline took that seriously. 

On Christmas Day 2021, she prepared 30 plates of food and handed them out to people on the streets. She has continued doing this on a weekly basis ever since.

At the start of 2022, Emmeline officially launched El Puente Catering. “El Puente means ‘the bridge.’ It represents New York City and all its bridges. It’s also my way of bridging my family to yours through food,” she explains. 

Although she started the business from her own kitchen, today, Emmeline is cooking out of a commercial kitchen facility in Ocala. Customers book her services online or through social media. 

Among her favorite dishes to make is Pollo Guisado, a hearty chicken stew of comfort food that reminds her of childhood.

“When I was on my own in New York City, I’d call my mom and ask how she made certain things,” says Emmeline, who routinely tweaked her mother’s recipes to add her own unique flair to a dish. She’s had no professional culinary or artistic training and is completely self-taught.

Emmeline, who is single, laughs that her Dalmatian, Zoomie, is a lot like having a kid.

She radiates happiness as she shares her food and art. As the catering business expands, food is taking up more of her time—which is just fine by Emmeline.

“There’s so much to come, but for now I’m just keeping it simple with food and art,” she smiles. “It’s all God. My business belongs to Him; I just manage it. He gives me the ideas, and I trust my instincts.”
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