There is that moment, after a big meal, when plates are being cleared, wine glasses are drained and diners consider rising from the table, signaling the gathering is over.
Josephine Caminos Oría ’95 thinks we should stay. Because that’s when the meal begins to connect the diners, when the walls that might separate us start to come down.
“We call it sobremesa,” Caminos Oría shares, gently rolling the “r” and revealing the vocal warmth of her Latin heritage. It’s the part of the meal where conversation gets spicy, she says, and life gets good – where you can get real.
Born in Argentina and raised as one of six children in Pittsburgh, Caminos Oría is the daughter of a cardiologist who came to the U.S. to further his training. Her parents both embraced America but hung onto their Argentine traditions – and passed them down. Much of her early life entwined the two cultures, including honoring that postprandial tradition that would later become a book.
Caminos Oría studied at Duke with a plan to go to med school, following her dad’s path. She majored in Spanish literature with a minor concentration in marketing. Her studies, while a seeming diversion from a bigger goal, caused her to think deeper and write better, she said. Nothing she learned was lost.
“I really think Duke just gave me the foundation for becoming who I was really meant to be,” says Caminos Oría. “It allowed me to really find my true north without looking for it.”
Her path to a career in writing had diversions. After a breakup left her heartbroken, she went back to Argentina and began a career in business, working at Standard & Poor’s. She later earned a master’s degree at the University of Miami, which led to a corporate career and work as a healthcare industry CFO. Along the way, she married and had five children, but she left her job in 2017 to return to her heart, where family and food had always led.
Her food journey was kick-started by her grandmother’s 90th birthday. Caminos Oría made Latin-inspired dulce de leche in her home kitchen, sending 60 jars to Argentina as favors for her grandmother’s celebration. But the sweet treat was more than a gift honoring tradition. It became the impetus for a company she founded – La Dorita – named after her precious abuela. Soon those jars of yummy would land on Whole Foods shelves, prompting Caminos Oría to purchase a building with a commercial kitchen and open its door to other startups. She expanded the space in 2018 and it’s now a full-fledged culinary incubator kitchen that has helped more than 100 businesses.
While Caminos Oría enjoyed business and giving back to her community, writing was always a part of her plan. With the pandemic in full tilt, the family moved to Charleston, South Carolina, a locale that has given her space to indulge her writing, which is what she hopes to do for the rest of her life.
A third book is on the way – a work of fiction for young readers which will be the first in a series. She draws on her experience at Duke and her study of literature to create a fictional, bicultural world she describes as “a sort of Judy Bloom Spanglish style using magical realism,” with food, of course, at the center.
The series is also named for her grandmother, Dorita, who showed her how to gracefully set an inspired table. And in doing so, merged Caminos Oría’s education and love of food, to keep their cultural DNA alive.
“I call her a Betty Crocker and a glamorous abuela. She was the type of grandmother who taught us you could strap on an apron and go tackle the world. “