When Cristina Baez, the co-owner of Spanish restaurants Ataula and Masia, was still living in Puerto Rico, her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. She had recently finished culinary school, so she decided to start a food business to support the family. “I would do delivery meals every week, and pop-ups at my house twice a month,” she says. “It gave me the freedom to really be with my dad.”
Years later, Baez is in a completely different place. Masia is still running, Ataula is pulling in the occasional catering order, and she’s raising her kids with chef and collaborator Jose Chesa. But still, with the pandemic slowing business and taking its inevitable emotional toll, Baez felt the urge to explore those culinary roots once again. Thus, she has breathed new life into that same food business: Aybendito is serving Puerto-Rican pastelillos, sofrito caneles, and pernil for pre-order and pickup, with online cooking classes and private chef work, as well.
Here’s how it works: Customers order from an online market, which comes with an array of items meant to be used for meal planning — tostones, little caneles of sofrito to toss in soups or rice — and full-blown meals like pernil and chicken stew. Those items have a pickup date listed on the description; customers purchase what they want, and then Baez reaches out with more details on where to pick up items. The idea behind this “tiendita” has to do with creating supplementary items for meal planning — easy sides and things to keep in the fridge or freezer, to throw in an air fryer or a pot. “As a mom or, really, as someone trying to survive, thinking about that meal planning is tricky. Sometimes it gets boring, and sometimes it gets overwhelming. So I’m going, ‘What do I make real quick?’” she says. “Tostones are a great side for literally anything.”
One of the most exciting elements of Aybendito’s tiendita is its selection of pastelillos. When Baez was growing up, she and her fellow high school students would often grab lunchtime pastelillos — turnovers stuffed with briny picadillo, guava and cheese, or pepperoni. Baez’s favorite was her mother’s seafood pastelillos, stuffed with shrimp or lobster in a sofrito-and-tomato sauce. All four appear in Baez’s Tiendita, available in three-packs, six-packs, and by the dozen. “My friends know this is the kind of food I serve when they come over,” she says.
But beyond the tiendita, Baez also offers her services as a private chef and teacher. For $50, people can hire Baez to host virtual cooking classes through Aybendito, customizable based on whatever skill someone’s interested in learning — everything from Puerto Rican cooking to knife skills. Baez has also camped out in people’s yards, bringing her grill with her and serving an assortment of snacks. “It’s super super fun,” she says. “I bring my boombox and my salsa music — it’s awesome.”
People can reach Baez through Aybendito’s website.
Disclosure: Cristina Baez wrote an article for Eater Portland in 2019.