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tv   Witness  LINKTV  January 5, 2022 1:00pm-1:31pm PST

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[music playing] wes avilla: end goal once i saw that i can pay my own rent was get a restaurant. like, i didn't want a food truck. at that point, food
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trucks were dead. when i got my truck was during when the bubble burst. it was so niche and so specific where, like, people were selling this one item that was so, like, obscure that, like, it became hot because you do the lobster ramen [bleep] ravioli tamale thing that's [bleep] everybody needs to get that. everybody needs to jump on that trend. so i was super over even getting a food truck. i didn't want to be a part of that culture, but it sucked me in, and we just made it our own. it's not straight-up mexican because we're not straight-up mexican. yes, it's part of our soul andart of our blood and who were, but california and los angeles is a big, big, big influence i think on what we do. so it's kind of annoying to hear people say, like, that's not authentic, bl, blah, blah. it's, like, [bleep] that. it's authentic to me. i grew up in los angeles. this is the way i'm cooking, so it's authentic to me. i'm being true to myself.
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carolos salgado: i know that everyone sort of expected us to be a mexican restaurant, and i think that with that expectation, certain things were taken for granted. even, like, an immigrant latino like myself, i have preconceived notions about what a mexican restaurant should be. i walk into a, you know, your average mexican restaurant d i'm fully expecting chi and
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salsa at the table despite the fact that i feel so strongly that it shouldn't be a necessity or requirement. i mean, so deep are those preconceptions that we have that they're actually embedded in my own cultural identity. so we had that challenge to overcome. my folks had been working side-by-side in a hole in the wall americanized tacoria, yeah, for over 30 years. la siesta right here in orange county. i watched my parents, like, handle these customer interactions where people are saying, like, are you going to charge me to add guacamole to that? like, well, yes. yoknow, avocados are $2. apiece right now. my dad used to measure, you know, everything in terms of, like, tacos. you know, my crt screen broke or something. i needed a new one. do you have any idea how many tacos i have to sell to, you know, get you a new screen for your computer? bill esparza: he is presenting mexican food in a way that critics are taking notice, which
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was really hard to do before, you know? it was always a white chef cooking mexican food that would garner attention for elevating or saving the food. there wasn't really a template for this of, you know, how do you do mexican cuisine with chef technique? carlos: i had the privilege of working for daniel patterson at coi for many years. and i was, you know, a young cook in san francisco working at a high-end, you know, luxury tasting menu restaurant, where we transmitted the value of, you know, careful mediterranean agriculture onto the plate. as a chef, your responsibility is to serve the best. one of your primary sort of control points isrankly shopping. building relationships and finding ingredients. you know, this is what's perfect at the market right now. now i'll search my personal
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history for something that makes sense. sunchokes came into season, like, soon after we opened, and i love sunchokes. i've only ever been familiar working with them in the context of california cuisine, right? there was no precedent that i knew of for preparing them in mexican food. and it turns out the indigenous people of north america, like, you know, ate the roots of varieties of sunflowers and, you know, they're very similar. and they were cooked like a potato. one of my favorite dishes we've ever done was sunchokes with chorizo, which is a potato and chorizo thing, which is, like, one of the sort of fundamental flavor combinations in mexican food. so that it began as a dish that we can attach to emotionally. that's really important for us. i saw something years ago that to me was a very strong visual metaphor. and i was really beginning to dig deep into how tortillas are made.
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expensive, organic, dry farmed tomatoes could justify a higher price on, you know, on a two michelin star restaurant menu, but nothing could justify the price of a taco that cost over a dollar. if we're going to make a better taco, then we need a better tortilla. bill: chef carlos salgato is our masa warrior. he's taken it upon himself to be the leader and at whatever cost to bring in heirloom corn intoexican cuisine in the united states. he was one of the first guys to work with masienda, which is bringing in heirloom corn from mexico. jorge gaviria: every chef that we work with has their own particulareasons and affinities to masienda and why they want to work with, you know, the material that we're sourcing. carlos is definitely masienda's, like, intellectual spirit chef, you know? he got it immediately. i mean, we work within, you know, the canon of there's 59
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pure breeds, but there's tens of thousands, you know, and each year we may be sourcing, for example, oloteo from oaxaca. but it's got so many different expressions within that one, sort of, that one breed. masienda's goal is to make sure folks know that corn is not just corn, getting to some type of consciousness around the realm of possibility for flavor through educating consumers, and then finally positively impacting farmers livelihoods. carlos: you know, i didn't want to open without having solved the corn issue. so he sent us samples. as we were cooking it, specifically the primary corn we use here, the conico azul, my mom and dad you could sort of see that it was stirring something, you know. what it was doing is it was pulling on this sort of genetic memory, i think, of the real aroma of corn, the real flavor and the real smell of a tortilla. and we tasted it. it was so profoundly different.
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you know, it was that, you know, sort of heirloom tomato. we knew it existed. we traveled back home to mexico, and the dark purple quesadillas with the huitlacoche, you know, streetside in mexico city smell differently than the tortillas we had hereyou know. and we just sort of drew a line and said this is the foundation of our restaurant. i would have sooner not served tacos or removed "taco" from the name of this restaurant than serve it on a commodity gmo corn tortilla. ray garcia: it may get saltier as it warms up, but, you know, see what it tastes like hot. you're probably going to need a little bit more salt, ok? thank you.
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luke, what's going on? luke: picking parsley, chef. ray: nice, nice. the dining scene is very, very different. there's a new generation of chef, of mexican american. when i started in restaurants, you know, more than 20 years ago, l.a. was very eurocentr, you know. there were a few fine dining restaurants, but very rarely would you see a mexican or even latin for that matter ingredient on a plate or a word on the menu. and now the ability to cook something that connects to my palate, that connects to childhood memories, connects to something deeper is what i think is transforming the restaurant scene. this opportunity that maybe my parents or other, you know, generations before me haven't had. one of my chefs iny early, you know, restauran that i worked in, you know, he would actually say you shouldn't speak spanish if you want
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to move up in this business, you know. spansh is a language of weakness. spanish is a language of ignorance, you know. if you want to be a dishwasher, keep speaking spanish. so sometimes it was that in your face, where it's like, whoa, you know. i have to, like, turn my back on culture. i have to turn my back on language if i want to progress in this kitchen. and the same thing with mexican food. i think people think that there is a limit to how creative it can be. there's a limit to how much you can charge for it. there's a limit to how much confidence and creativity you can put behind your food, and that's not true. you c stay true to culture, you can ay true to ingredients, you can keep that passion and authenticity, but you can still have a restaurant on main street. bill: ray garcia to me represents one of the greatest hopes for the future of mexican uisine in los angeles, mexican american.
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ray is this guy that-- i mean, he was one of the city's most celebrated chefs as a guy who just did, you know, french techniqucooking at the fig, this hotel in santa monica. and slowly he started to put items on the brunch menu, started to put tacos, you know, and then huevos rancheros. and people were starting to go, wow, this is really amazing, you know. when you're cooking your mom's mole and you've been practicing it for years, there's all the stuff that's already kind of-- that has a foundation. t this new cuisine doesn't have quite the same foundation. it's re of a skeleton. so how do you do that now in a modern kitchen and have that same effect? ray: caracoles for me are one of those dishes that are a product of my current state that i'm in, sort of that intersection of a classically trained chef, you know, somebody who grew up eating a lot of mexican foods. if you dissect the ingredients
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as sort of a chefy equation, yeah, there's acid, there's garlic, there's fat, there's herbs. it does make sense. it passes all those tests, but we put it in the form of a, you know, a green mole made with stinging nettles. and so together, you know, it's a very far departure from i think what you'd get in a french restaurant, that bubbling, buttery escargot. but still, it's something that--it makes sense because there's nothing that says an ingredient that you're used to eating in france or french food can't also make its way into mexican or mexican food or mexican culture. roland, what's up, buddy? good. how are you doing? carlos: you guys all remember this guy? man: oh, yeah. ray: how you doing, man? how's the kid? how's dad life treating you? man: good. awesome. ray: nice. you giving him
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all the stories? you letting him know what's up or you going to save some surprises for him? it just so happened that carlos and i were opening, you know, arnd the same time. is this the expansion or was this always here? and we came to the great agreement and relationship we have now, where he grinds corn in his restaurant for us. it comes to our restaurant and we make the tortillas and tamales in-house. oh, nice. carlos: and so the parallels were immediately obvious. i mean, this is someone who was well pedigreed, who was l.a. born, mexican, descendent of immigrants. i knew already that we were kind of working in the same space and shared a language of ideas. ray: who made the machine for you guys? carlos: an eccentric machinist from oaxaca. ray: ok. [laughs] carlos: who works in an undisclosed location. ray: with a prepaid cell phone that you can't get a hold of anymore? carlos: exactly. exactly right.
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he's like the mexican version of the, like, french truffle dealer. ray: yeah, yeah, yeah. carlos: the guy who comes in, "i got these truffles. don't ask where i got them." ray: the corn's really good. calos: we'll keep loading. [speaking spanish] i'm gonna back off and leave it a little bit dry for the end of it. ray: i've had a fresh tortilla before, of course. you know, i've had tortillas in the fridge all my life growing up. but now this is something that is totally, totally different. and it's something that i saw, you know, deserves, you know, the same appreciation and effort that goes into, you know, baguette making. it's not something that can be taken lightly. it's not something where you can think you can, you know,
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input crappy corn and end up magically with an amazing tortilla. wes: i literally started guerrilla tacos--other than the fact that i really needed to start it to make a living-- is i wanted to make good food. i wanted to make good tacos. i had bought this cart for a taco theme party. like, the cart, i didn't buy it to like, oh, i'm going to start guerrilla tacos. i've got this [bleep] business plan. i take my last 167 bucks out. i buy meat. i buy the stuff to make chilies. i buy chicken. and then so i'm like, all right, i'm going to do ts. i'll never forget when i made
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enough money one day to pay my rent share, i was like, this will work. like, i can make a living off tacos. it just slowly grew and grew and grew, and then, like, i remember jonathan gold came up. and i was like, that's [bleep] jonathan gold at my cart. all right. [bleep] a, dude. so, like, this is happening. we're getting a lot of that kind of buzz. it was going really, really well. we opened up service and this cop car pulls up. they come in and i was like, i hope they're coming to eat. and ey're like, you can't have this out here. this is illegal. that's [bleep] bull [bleep]. i was like, we gotta get a tru. we just got busier and busier and busier, so i started hiring people and it just grew and grew. bill: chef wes avila is the liberator of the taco. he's a classically trained chef who's worked with the best chefs in los angeles, but he also started to realize that heould offer a fine dining experience on a tortilla. to me, that's the most rebellious thing that any of these chefs has ever done.
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wes: people were like, $4.00 for a taco. like, you just see the shock on their face. it's like, there's some tacos i have that are $9.00 for a taco, you know, because it's foie gras and gypsy bacon, and so the product warrants that price i remember somebody else was like, that's kind of a lot, you know, $6.00 for a taco. got the plate, i put the pork belly down, put the condiment, the chile, put a little swoosh, put some, like, micros and made it look pretty, and i was, like, here, look. it's a fine dining dish. like, now would you pay 5.00? there, like, i'd pay 14 for that. bill: a taco is a dish. it has to come together in your mouth like a sauce. once you take a bite, it doesn't matter if it's carne asada or its taco de cabeza, there has to be a dish that's composed, even if it's simple. of course, he's using different ingredients, but he's not using market fresh ingredients to mock mexican cuisine. it's done with respect. he's using market ingredients
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just like any other chef. wes: a lot of people i knew grew up with camping, like all these mountains and all this other beautiful stuff here in california. we never did that. us was mexico. we just go to rosarito, get a campsite over in popotla, or we'd be in ensenada. and there, that's where i really, really got into seafood. and, like, my brother and sister were vermuch like, no, we just want tacos. we just want tacos. wwant carnitas. we want this, we want that. but for me, ias like, want to try that weird [bleep]. look at it, it's still moving. i want to eat that. stephanie mutz: welcome aboard. wes: good to see you. stephanie mutz from sea stephanie fish based out of santa barbara. she came by and she brought an ice chest full--i'm talking like 40 sea urchins, and we just start cracking them with these japanese crackers. opening them up, just putting them on. who want sea urchin on their tacos? boom, boom, boom. we're just putting sea urchin on top of the tacos we're already making. it didn't matter what it was. we were just adding sea urchin to everything. stephanie: so similar to wine, and what makes wine grapes spectacular is the terroir.
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for sea urchins, it's the merroir. it's the chemical composition in the water, the temperature of the water, the plants that are growing, especially the macrocystis, the giant kelp, and that's the predominant food that the sea urchin eat. it makes it sweet. so all those put together, the topography of the bottom, then the chemical and the temperature composition of our water is pretty special. you usually put them on the tostadas, right? wes: yeah, i like using the urchin on my tostadas raw, just like straight up on there. once in a while, like when we have like a super large amount, then i'll throw it on top of a beef taco and i'll just use the torch just to give it a little bit of a-- stephanie: oh, nice. wes: just a little singe on it. stephanie: and a little caramelization. wes: mm-hmm. mm-hmm. and it adds a really nice creamy texture. stephanie: this is a good urchin. this is a good urchin. wes: delicious. i take a lot of influence from where i'm at. we're on california's coast, some of the best seafood in the world, santa barbara sea urchin off the channel islands. like, you know where you taste something for the first time,
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like when you tte an oyster for the first time or you taste, yoknow, a piece of fish or a vegetable or an apple directly from the tree or a peach directly from the tree, it's, like, surreal. it's, like, weird. it's almost, like, dreamlike when you taste something so good when it's the first of the season. i focus on my surroundings, los angeles. like, if we have all these things available year round, use them year round. my mom was supermom. she would take us to melrose to go shopping for records. she would drive us around
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wherever we wanted. she was super proud of me for playing football and being good at it and very supportive of whatever i wanted to do. she passed away when i was 15. i'm sure if she was alive now she'd have, like, every newspaper clipping, every video thing saved. i just wish she was around to be able to see, like, all the stuff that we've done with the restaurant and how far, like, her son has gotten. you know what i mean? like, i lost her super young and it was just, like, my whole world was flipped upside down. it shaped me in a lot of ways and it shaped me in a lot of negative ways, too. but for the most part, it's positive, it's positivity that life is short. you know what i mean? like, when opportunity strikes, you jump on it. we get into this space, this is the next thing, a complete
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reboot of guerrilla tacos, and it's just the next steppingstone. actually having, like, you know, space and, like, refrigerators and actually having an oven, not like plug-in mickey mouse things, we actually have a restaurant. so, like, i couldn't be happier than what i am now and knowing that this is the future. it's not going to be the food truck anymore. i'm going to go drive it off pch into the ocean. this is goingo be our home. this is our flagship. this is where it's going to be the most representative of what we do in the neighborhood that we started in in the city that i was born in. boy: make sure you don't spill anything on the grill. ray: are you going to help me flip? boy: no, but one second. there's something on the grill. ray: ok, that's good. for me, inspiration comes from, you know, a trip to the farmers market, conversations with
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another chef, having breakfast with my wife and son. all of those things can trigger a food memory, an inspiration that comes from an ingredient. and it never comes from the same place. the influence is from other neighborhoods or cultures or countries come together to make this food that is uniquely angeleno. it's still mexican food, but it is through an angeleno lens. there you go. now you can eat. so the same way that youight consider, you know, baja as a region or oaxacor mexico city or the yucatán or puebla, it all plays off of tradition, it plays off of local ingredients and customs and family influences. i think the same thing is happening in los angeles. here you go, triceratops. here's one more. bill: here in los angeles, it's time for this voice to finally be heard. we've had people who are not mexican representing our
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cuisine. it is time to represent it. and again, it's not because of their skin color. it's because they're doing something with it. they're doing something with it that only they can do. you can't grow up in some other place and in another type of household and really relate to those truly formative experiences. wes avila, ray garcia, carlos salgato, they've grown up in mexican households in the united states. they're doing what chefs are supposed to do and they're doing it from an authentic place, an authentic experience. ray:i don't worry about competition. i don't say, oh, someone else is opening up a new mexican restaurant, and it's four blocks away. that is something that is a positive, because the more people who are eating in all of our restaurants, the better. the better the ingredient, the better the training, the better
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talent pool that's out there that actually knows how to make a tortilla or knows how to make a tamale or knows what flavors should taste like, and that's exciting. wes: we're not trying to fix something that's already perfect. like, mexican food's great, you know, so i think for us it's more of an approach to use, like, seasonal ingredients and kind of work within those boundaries. not being afraid to, you know, to do different things in different ways. carlos: my aspirations are to create institutions out of the things that are most important to us in life, that sustain us not just nutritionally, but culturally. what we found when we started looking carefully and started wanting to understand corn, which was the source of our history and thus our identity,
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was that corn is a beautiful wide spectrum of flavors, colors and aromas. and it would be disingenuous for me to go to another place that i didn't have that personal connection to and try to do the work that we're doing now. [man singing in spanish]
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ggccccc'''''' - a. is anmperfectaradise. weave highs at seem gher than anywhere else in the world, but we know there are some people that are left behind. - yeah the issu exist righin frontf us. theyive onhe fring, or endp in jai or e up on t streets they'rnot waki up to fl. - how you cree a mmunity at belies thatverybodyelongsnd is wng to fuse hop r whom he is forgn? - it's gta go soeep, where aizza sho hato pull ese kids out. - re's a biness. here's purpose that importa. - i wish -- we can eose kidso cookin cookincan saveo many pple's lis. - weive in aociety, where 's like, if you'rnot suessful,

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