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Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what's on their menu in Deglazed, a series about food.
Bronx-born Leslie Grace may be known for her role as Nina Rosario in In the Heights but the on-screen city girl has a New York experience all her own. Raised in Yonkers, Grace grew up around a melting pot of foods that shaped her appreciation for fusion cuisine, home-cooked meals and sweet treats.
"Where I come from — being raised by Dominican parents in New York — has had a big influence on what I eat," Grace tells Yahoo Life. "I'm not a picky eater — I'll try anything. We just eat a lot. Anytime we're all together, there's definitely food happening."
The 27-year-old singer, songwriter and actress is the youngest of seven children and says her big family loves reuniting over singing, dancing and eating her grandmother's Dominican dishes.
"Usually, my grandma, my aunts and my mom are in the kitchen cooking while we're all catching up — either singing karaoke or dancing to salsa, bachata and all kinds of tropical music," Grace says. "Once the food is ready, it goes silent because everyone is very very hungry."
Grace believes there's nothing better than her grandmother's locrio de pollo: a rice and chicken dish made with herbs, vegetables and flavorful spices. "It's like no other," she says, "she pairs it with a cold potato salad with peas and it's just so so so good."
Fresh off a six-month stint in Glasgow, Scotland, filming for her upcoming role in Batgirl, Grace says her homecoming was filled with family-favorite dishes.
"It's the longest I've been in another country without home-cooked meals," Grace recalls, "there's nothing that makes me feel more at ease, at home and taken care of than a home cooked meal by my mom or my grandma."
"When I got back, my mom was able to cook for me and stocked up my freezer with tons of meals I could reheat the next week when she was gone," she adds, "and that just brings me back home."
Aside from traditional Dominican meals, Grace says her freezer is full of a lifelong favorite — Häagen Dazs ice cream. "I have a major sweet tooth," says Grace, who spoke to Yahoo Life as a part of her work promoting Häagen Dazs and their new City Sweets ice cream collection.
"I literally have been eating it my whole life: since my mom's belly," she says, "Haägen Dazs was her number one craving [while pregnant] with me."
The new lineup celebrates iconic New York City sweets Grace grew up on, like black and white cookies or her favorite, dulce de leche churros.
"The Häagen Dazs founders came out of the Bronx as well," she shares. "They were immigrants and entrepreneurs ... so that was something else that aligned me to the brand. It makes sense why they would shine a light onto the community and the neighborhood charm — that's how they were founded."
The collection will continue the Häagen-Dazs #ThatsDazs mission, which aids underrepresented creative communities. The brand has pledged to donate 1.5 million dollars in areas like music and theater.
In her own neighborhood, Grace recently picked up a love for cooking she believes expanded her appreciation for food and became a means of self-care.
"I'm a terrible cook but like a lot of us during quarantine, I got into making meals for myself," she says. "I realized when you're cooking with your hands — cooking a meal for yourself — it's a kind of mindfulness. You have to pay attention to your cooking and it became something that felt relaxing."
By the end of quarantine, Grace says her skills improved in the kitchen, giving her a new attitude towards food. "I could see myself getting better at it," she says. "It builds confidence when you provide nourishment to yourself."
"That's what food means to me — nourishment for the body and time to take a moment to yourself to decompress and remember, especially with food from home, where you come from," she adds. "To just be grateful for where you are."
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