Amara La Negra is in the midst of a glamorous photoshoot when we hop on the phone, but she'll always make time to talk about food. When we met at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, the 29-year-old breakout star from VH1's Love & Hip-Hop: Miami gave an impassioned speech about burgers, and she gets so excited about the Dominican food of her childhood that she considers committing a crime. After hearing I've never tried chicharrones (fried pork rinds) before, she jokes, "Oh my god, girl! I need to kidnap you and bring you over here [to Miami]! You don't know what you're missing."
Even though English-speaking TV viewers are just now getting to know Amara, the Miami-born artist has been a star in the Latin world for years. As a child, she performed on Univision's Sábado Gigante, competed in (and won!) beauty pageants, and shared the stage with the late Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. And she really hasn't stopped since then.
"There's always things happening. I pretty much stay busy," she says. Between gearing up for a book tour to promote her first children's book, Amarita's Way, serving up major lewks on Instagram, and releasing infectious singles like "Insecure" that've garnered millions of streams on Spotify, Amara stays winning. But the grind is what fuels her. (Well, that, and sweet plantains.)
Read on to find out what foods Amara eats to get the creative juices flowing in the studio as she works on her debut album, how her Dominican heritage inspires her music, and her dream fast food lineup.
Rachael Ray Every Day: How does your Afro-Latina culture inspire the music you create?
Amara Le Negra: I am very proud to be Dominican, Black, Latina, and a woman. I am proud of everything that I represent. I do believe that my culture has definitely influenced my music, my performances. Especially living in Miami, I've been able to use all the versatility of culture that's in Miami, from Dominicans to Cubans, Venezuelans, Colombians, and Puerto Ricans. I've been able to use their rhythms and drum patterns and add it to my own music.
You don't hold back about the colorism you face being a dark-skinned Afro-Latina in the Latin community, which I find incredibly necessary and refreshing.
I just feel it's a lack of representation and knowledge. I don't get upset at people who don't know because if no one has ever taught you this, I can't get upset at you for it. There's a certain prototype for what Latinas are "supposed" to look like, especially in the entertainment industry, which is why I continue to speak up and encourage others to do the same and to love who they are, their melanin, the texture of their hair, their culture, their race.
Your mom's known for her empanada shop called Empanadalicious. Do you have any memories of cooking with her in the kitchen?
All my memories have always been of my mom kicking me out of the kitchen. [Laughs] That's her territory. She doesn't like anybody being in there while she's there.
How do you describe Dominican food, in a nutshell?
Dominican food is a lot of flavor. I would say it's happy food. It's savory. It's definitely not for anybody trying to be on a diet. I think the one thing that connects the world besides music is food. There's so much pleasure we get from sharing a good meal with the people we care about. It just makes you happy.
What's the signature Dominican dish that everyone must try?
Mangú—it's one of our most popular dishes. Very traditional. It's made out of boiled plantains that have been smashed together with some seasoning and butter. Fried salami, cheese, eggs, and avocado are served on the side. It's very [fattening] but fulfilling. According to folklore, an [American solider] was injured [during the American invasion of the Dominican Republic 1816]. The Dominicans fed him as he healed and recouped from his wounds. He didn't know how to speak Spanish, so he kept saying, "Man, this is good!" The Dominicans understood it as "mangú" (man, good), so the dish became known as mangú. See? Even if you don't [speak the same] language, food brings everyone together.
Let's do a little rapid-fire. What are the best foods for creative flow in the studio?
I really like fruit because when you're recording in the studio for hours at a time, you'll eat everything on site, so that's usually the best route to take.
Bleu cheese or ranch for wings?
I'll tell you this much: I hate white sauces. I can do red sauces, so barbecue, ketchup, marinara, but no bleu cheese, sour cream, ranch—it's so weird to me!
Onion rings or French fries?
Pancakes, waffles or French toast?
Sweet or crispy plantains?
That's a hard one because I'm Dominican ... I'm going to go with sweet.
Nachos or cheese fries?
I'll go with the nachos.
Favorite late-night snack?
Could you design your dream fast food buffet?
OK, first we're going to Tootsie's, one of the most popular strip clubs in Miami, to get lemon pepper chicken wings with extra seasoning. Then we're going to Papa John's for pizza and the garlic sticks with extra grease just so it can go straight to my thighs. [Laughs] The Cheesecake Factory has an amazing miso salmon. I can also go to Panera Bread and have a chicken Caesar salad. Oh, and Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets—not the grilled ones, I want the fatty ones. You're making me hungry.
Must-have snacks on your tour rider?
I'm sure that people would think I'm more bougie, but I'm actually really chill. My tour rider isn't all that, but it has a salmon Caesar salad with balsamic dressing. I have a fruit plate, but I especially love pineapples and mangos, or whatever fruit is in season. I also have four boxes of pizza, mainly for my dancers and my crew. I make sure everybody's fed. I love juice, Red Bull and Gatorade—I like the original [lemon-lime], but they also have a strawberry flavor that's bomb.
Favorite restaurant to visit when you're in NYC?
Negril Village. I don't know where it is exactly [in New York], but all I know is it's Jamaican food. Their seasoning ... everything is bomb.
What dish do you recommend there?
Most nostalgic childhood snack?
Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme. To this day, I love them!