Rico Leon invites everyone to enjoy a taste of his Puerto Rican culture, interview

Rico Leon on Rico to the Rescue on HGTV, photo provided by HGTV
Rico Leon on Rico to the Rescue on HGTV, photo provided by HGTV /

On HGTV’s Rico to the Rescue, Rico Leon helps struggling homeowners rebound from negative home improvement situations. While he has a plethora of tips to avoid those renovation disasters, Rico is always celebrating his Puerto Rican heritage. From a spirited dinner with friends and family to incorporating a signature piece in his home décor, that connection to his culture is always front and center.

Now in its second season on HGTV, Rico to the Rescue is a concept that stems from personal experience. Rico Leon saw how his parents were taken advantage of by a contractor. As seen in the episodes, Rico tries to right those renovation disasters and get the homeowners what they deserve. Finding that path to a positive outcome is more than just drywall and paint, the process gives the homeowners what they wanted in the first place, a new space that makes them feel welcome.

Those sentiments of inviting, comforting, and welcoming are more than just lofty ideals. Any space needs to express the person who lives in it. From a personal trip memento to the color scheme, no two homes are ever the same. For Rico, his approach to design reflects his Puerto Rican culture, his travels, and occasionally a space to host dinner parties for friends.

Since the kitchen is often a focal point for homeowners, Rico suggests a method that he employs in his own home, a big statement piece. He shared, “I’ve done a lot of traveling, like visiting Australia, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and many other places. While I’m there, I love to purchase art and other items. When I bring them back, I like to put them in my kitchen. That statement piece provokes a conversation about the food from those countries. It is a great aesthetic, and it makes a bigger connection and story around the kitchen.”

Those conversations in and around the kitchen are important to Rico. He shared an idea that he uses at many dinner parties.

Discussing this type of gathering, Rico said, “everyone has to bring a home cooked meal, nothing that is just store bought. Guests can bring whatever they want but often it is a dish that reflects where they traveled or a dish from their family. It is a great way to share stories about a favorite trip, memory, or a piece of themselves. It is a lot of fun.”

Since his Puerto Rican culture is important to Rico Leon, he has some favorite Puerto Rican dishes that always bring big flavor, great memories, and a taste of his family’s tradition to the table. One of those dishes is mofongo.

For those unfamiliar, mofongo is a plantain forward dish. While everyone has their particular recipe, it is a classic Puerto Rican dish. Rico shared that his favorite version is one with Langoustines, a small lobster like crustacean that can be slightly sweet. With a little lobster sauce combined with the plantains, spice, langoustines, and other ingredients, it is total perfection for him.

Within Puerto Rican culture, the mofongo bowl, which is used to mashed plantains, is often a family heirloom passed down through generations. Rico admitted that his mom is holding onto his family’s mofongo bowl for his future wife. Hopefully, she will be a good cook and can replicate his mother’s recipe.

As more people are coming to appreciate, those family recipes are more than just a bite of nostalgia. They are often a family archive. In some ways, those dishes can be incorporated into kitchen design.

Rico suggested, “have parents, an aunt, sister, or whoever cooked that beautiful dish write down the recipe and turn it into a portrait. I had a designer take a special family recipe and turn it into a tile that is embedded into the kitchen. It is always there, and it becomes a focal point of the kitchen.”

Rico Leon on Rico to the Rescue on HGTV
Rico Leon on Rico to the Rescue on HGTV, photo provided by HGTV /

That sentiment goes back to something that Rico shared about the importance of the kitchen to the family home. As seen in Rico to the Rescue Season 2, one family of seven had to improvise with a camping stove when a contractor destroyed their kitchen. The family would not let the lack of a working space keep them from having a meal together.

Rico believes, “the kitchen is a place where families express their love language. It is a form of service when someone cooks for you. It is like words of affirmation. That food is a gift of themselves, of their culture. The kitchen celebrates those feelings more than anywhere else in the house.”

Whether it is the Puerto Rican dishes, like mofongo, arroz con pollo, or arañitas, Rico Leon is always ready to share a table and a story with others. The slow cooked chicken and shredded plantains in the arañitas might take hours to create, but that time and effort is a way to share a little piece of yourself with others.

Even if a little dollop of Mayo Ketchup might change a person’s condiment preference forever, the reality is that those flavors are just one chapter in a narrative in a person’s life. Much can be said about a home’s design and aesthetic setting a welcome tone, but it is the table where guests truly feel the appreciation for the invitation to share that experience.

Catch up with Rico Leon and his HGTV show Rico to the Rescue. Episodes can be streamed on MAX.

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