Chef markets her Latin fare

Mercado Las Americas provides spicy cuisine

By: Jessica Beym
    A love for her mother’s home-
cooked Latin-American dishes, two college degrees in marketing and food science, and years of working in the restaurant business just might add up to a recipe for success for 32-year-old Marina Jusino.
    After moving to New Jersey from Peru with her family in 1989, Ms. Jusino, of East Windsor, wanted to bring the authentic taste of Latin cuisine with her and make it easier for both Latin and American cultures to taste it as well.
    With the help of her brother, Fernando, her husband, Scott Pangborn, and her mother, or "mamita" meaning mommy in Spanish, she was able to launch Mercado Las Americas, or Market of the Americas, a Latin-American gourmet food company featuring a line of baked goods called Mamita’s Gourmet.
    The traditional Central American desserts — a spicy sipping chocolate made with Mexican chocolate, cinnamon and peppers, powdered butter cookies filled with an almond dulce de leche, candy-
coated truffles and homemade rice pudding with fresh milk and butter — are all created from Mamita’s family recipes.
    Mamita’s smiling face and the saying "Home is where the kitchen is," make up the logo for the line of desserts. "I wanted to bring those authentic recipes to consumers," she said. "That’s what inspired us. We’ve had, for a long time, friends and family guests we’ve entertained. People would say to us, ‘Why don’t you make this for other people to enjoy, too. You should be selling this stuff.’ But there’s a lot more involved. You need to stay with the quality and authenticity of the flavors that were originally in the recipe and put it in a package format that people can enjoy right from the shelf."
    While the family-owned business is run out of an upstairs office at 13 N. Main St. in Cranbury, the desserts are made in North Bergen and can be ordered online or by phone.
    The family also operates the business out of the East Windsor home where Ms. Jusino, her husband, her brother and her mother, Marina Velarde Jusino, live.
    Every Saturday Mamita’s Gourmet can also be found at a stand in the West Windsor Community Farmers’ Market on Vaughn Road.
    Even though the business is still fresh — it was launched in March 2005 and didn’t set up an office until a few months ago — Ms. Jusino has her eyes set on bigger things.
    Besides actively looking for a storefront location to sell their products, she also hopes to expand Mercado Las Americas’ line of gourmet foods and ingredients and one day, have those items on the shelves of upscale markets.
    Different South American desserts, specialty oils, seasonings, spices, indigenous vegetables and sauces are just some of the products Ms. Jusino plans to make available.
    "There is so much that you don’t find at the level we’re looking for," she said. "We’re looking for more unique products you can’t find in supermarkets. Not just cans or dried goods you can find at some bodega. We want higher qualities that everyone can enjoy to experience those authentic flavors."
    Being born in Puerto Rico and having grown up in Peru and then in the Hispanic area of West New York, Ms. Jusino was able to experience the vast regional flavors of Central American cooking.
    While living in West New York, Ms. Jusino earned a master’s degree in food science from Rutgers University, then after years of working for food businesses such as Goya, Pillsbury and Häagen Dazs, she decided to go back to Rutgers for a master’s degree in marketing.
    The education, she said, taught her how to follow the growing and changing food trends in the United States, which helped her develop the concept for Mercado Las Americas.
    "When you look at restaurant trends, the new cuisine sets the pace of what will be in supermarkets a year or two from now," Ms. Jusino said. "I’ve seen, in the last couple of years, a resurgence of Hispanic cuisine, not just Mexican. People are becoming more sophisticated, learning more about it, trying different foods, and beginning to like and enjoy it."
    Dishes from Argentina, Brazilian barbecue and Cuban mojitos, a mint-flavored cocktail, are just some of the current trends, she said. With that in mind, Ms. Jusino is working on a line of products with three different flavors to represent different regions: pina coladas for the Caribbean, Aztec, a spicy flavor to represent Mexico, and dulce almond toffee to represent Argentina and Peru.
    Those regional, authentic tastes are what Ms. Jusino hopes will trigger a sense of familiarity with her customers that will keep them coming back for more.
    "In the Hispanic culture, we cherish making food from scratch," Ms. Jusino said. "Recipes and flavors are passed down from generation to generation and in the United States you see families passing it on but with the foods they can find here. But you need certain ingredients to make these wonderful dishes to make it taste just like how mom made it, or how grandmom made it."
    To find out more about Mercado Las Americas and Mamita’s Gourmet, visit the Web site at, or call (609) 426-8944.