tampabay.com

Cooking queen kept 'grandkids' fulfilled

She became familiar to many through her books, TV shows and restaurant.

By JONATHAN MILTON
Published April 28, 2006


YBOR CITY - Like the recipes that fill her cookbooks, Clarita Garcia is remembered for a life as rich and savory as her favorite dishes.

The culinary legend died April 20 of heart failure. She was 91.

Mrs. Garcia came from a family in which the preparation of fine Spanish food was both a way of life and a livelihood. Her grandfather was an innkeeper in Spain, and her uncle Pancho cooked for Spain's King Alfonso XIII.

"She didn't have a mean bone in her body. She was one of those people that laughed at herself a lot," said close friend Helen Benito.

Originally from Spain, Mrs. Garcia attended the University of Madrid, where she studied languages. With her degree, she worked at the U.S. Embassy as an interpreter, before settling in Tampa.

She and her late husband, Manuel Garcia Jr., took over Las Novedades restaurant in Ybor City and ran it for 30 years.

Benito recalled Las Novedades in its prime: "It was a beautiful building. They brought in a lot of Goya paintings and marble. It was a very pretty building."

Mrs. Garcia also wrote Tampa's first Hispanic cookbook, Clarita's Cocina, published in 1960 and again in 1995. She hosted cooking shows on WTVT-Ch. 13 for 23 years. She followed up her first cookbook with Clarita's Cooking Lighter in 1997.

Between the restaurant, the cookbooks and TV cooking lessons, Mrs. Garcia became something of an unofficial grandmother to the Tampa Bay area's Cuban and Spanish community for more than a half century.

Known as a perfectionist in the kitchen, Mrs. Garcia poured out her heart through her recipes but also through soulful writing about her love of cooking. Consider this passage from Clarita's Cocina: "My mother was of the belief that a bowl of soup prepared with rich broth, to say nothing of a bowl of Potaje pottage, gave life to a listless bloodstream. Consequently, the familiar fragrance of the stock pot cooking on the stove was embedded in the walls of the large, warm, cozy kitchen where, as children, we spent so many happy hours."

Mrs. Garcia was a member of St. Lawrence Catholic Church, the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club, Las Damas and the Pen Women's Association.

Survivors include her daughter, Carmen Sink of Tampa; a son Manuel Garcia III of Orlando; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Jonathan Milton can be reached at milton@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.