You'll feel good when you eat at Mexicano, the new restaurant planned by Jaime Martín del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu of La Casita Mexicana. Not just because you've had a delicious meal but because you'll be eating food prepared by jobless older Latinos who've been given a place to work and eat.
The two chefs are scouting out cooks selling tamales, enchiladas and other Mexican goodies on the streets in order to make a living. Under 60? Forget it. Only seniors will be hired.
They'll work in Mexicano's kitchen 20 hours a week, preparing the dishes they know. “Perhaps a great barbacoa,” says Martín del Campo, who will train them, or birria or flan. Mexicano's chefs will finish and plate the dishes.
The restaurant's soft opening is scheduled for December, but the grand opening won't take place until February. Not a copy of La Casita Mexicana, it will be located in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (along with Post & Beam). The management there wanted a Mexican restaurant to attract Latinos moving into the area, Martín del Campo says. Before, the population was primarily African-American.
Mexicano's menu will appeal to both groups. One ceviche will be made with pickled pork rinds, tomatoes, onions and jalapeños. The chips won't be coated with mole, as at La Casita Mexicana, but with pureed peruano beans, and they'll be topped with crumbled panela or queso fresco, pickled carrots and jalapeños. The roasted tomatillo and chipotle salsa planned for Mexicano is not served at La Casita Mexicana. La Casita's renowned chiles en nogada won't make it to the new restaurant.
“We'll focus on the Mexican food the people in the area know,” Martín del Campo says. However, the dishes will be authentic, such as chiles rellenos prepared with poblano chiles stuffed with queso fresco and topped with mole, and enchiladas prepared in traditional style. “We'll present one new dish a month to see how it goes,” he says.
“I can't wait to let my imagination go,” Arvizu adds.
The 105-seat restaurant will have a full bar. The two chefs are going to Mexico to contact makers of tequila, mezcal, raicilla, bacanora and sotol, with whom they will develop cocktails. Dishes and silver will be made in Jalisco state.
Another idea for Mexicano is a tamale bar where customers can choose the ingredients and the tamales will be ready in a few minutes. Diners will be able to pick up mole paste and other ingredients at a small store like that at La Casita Mexicana.
Mexicano is just one project for these busy chefs. They are also opening a fast-food place called Flautas in the mall food court, offering flautas, salsas and aguas frescas. It will share the restaurant's kitchen, which will be on view through windows opening into the mall. The main entrance to Mexicano will be outside, so you can see it as you drive by.
Where do they get the drive and energy that enables them to leap from one new project to another, full of enthuiasm? “It's from our customers and to see their happy faces when we feed them,” Arvizu says.
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