Bill Esparza is a professional saxophonist, and the mouth and mind behind food blog Street Gourmet LA. He also teaches a class called Affordable Ethnic Dining at the Burbank Adult School, an eating-intensive class that takes students out into the streets of Los Angeles to diversify their palates and encourage cultural curiosity through culinary traditions. “I was inspired one day, grabbing a bite at an El Salvadorian restaurant with my sister,” says Esparza. “I was telling her about pupusas and Salvadorian specialties when a regular overheard. He said, 'I've been going to this place for a year–I thought it was Mexican!'”
There are lots of experienced foodies out there, Esparza explains, “and there are also plenty of people who love interesting food, but don't have the time, interest, or skills to track down the best finds in our huge metropolitan buffet.” Esparza doesn't give them an extreme tour, “I don't put them through any extreme eating; it's all accessible foods.” The purpose of his class is to expose them to a variety. “It's wonderful watching people's palates and interests open up,” Esparza says. “The more food awareness we have, the better our restaurants will become.” We tracked down Esparza to ask about his food for thought and thought for food.
Squid Ink: How long have you been blogging about food?
Bill Esparza: I got on blogger in April of 2007, but didn't quite get going until 2008. I teach an ethnic dining class at an adult school, and the blog became a great way to communicate with students.
SI: Tell us more about your ethnic dining class.
BE: The class is called Affordable Ethnic Dining and focuses on learning about world cultures through dining experiences. I take students to regional restaurants point out the unique plates on the menus, and deal with how to enjoy that cuisine. What time of the day is the meal eaten? How do you eat that food?
Some people don't dine in ethnic restaurants because various facets of the dining experience intimidate them. I'm able to arrange special dinners with restaurants, where I might ask them to cook more dishes from their region, or make a special dish that is served on an occasion. It has been a popular class, and a lot of fun, more of a party than anything. [
SI: What's your favorite little-known food blog?
BE: I love Maria-Brazil. The writing captures the Brazilian spirit, including food, music, culture, and even body language.
SI: What's unique about food blogging in Los Angeles?
BE: The variety of cuisines available to us is substantial. Here, the urban sprawl is an advantage, with so many cultural enclaves to draw from, it is possible to never run out of unique finds.
SI: What's your favorite food truck, if you have one?
BE: I'm not much of a truck guy, my favorite street food in LA comes mostly from stands and carts. But the shrimp tacos from Maricos Jalisco on Olympic between Evergreen and Dakota, are magnificent. The special recipe brought by a taquero from San Juan de Los Lagos Jalisco and the whole premise of this truck just sings to me on so many different levels.
SI: What role does the food blogger play in a city like LA, with such a vibrant culinary scene?
BE: Well, there are so many types of bloggers. I have traveled all over Latin America to learn about cuisines, especially in Mexico and Brazil. A cook from Mexico City comes here and decides to open a restaurant featuring the food he/she knows. They don't think about regionalism, they just cook. Having eaten my way through the streets of DF I get to write about the place and bring it to the attention of those unversed in that type of food, or those that have been itching for something they tried on a recent vacation. I think many bloggers are at the forefront of the LA culinary scene, and are still are out on the streets making the finds.
SI: What is the hardest part about food blogging?
BE: My personal challenge is making first to market reports. There are so many bloggers and forums out there, and by the time you've been to a place several times and got your photos together, some one puts up a paragraph with a few blurbs that takes the wind out of your sails. The other difficulty I've had is putting in countless hours researching neighborhoods on foot, only to have someone copy your finds without any crediting. The majority of bloggers and posters are very honorable, but the few bloggers and even professional writers who fail to come clean can be a real drag.
SI: Where do you get most of your ideas for posts?
BE: It's amazing where this food thing will take you and the experiences there are to be had. One night I dined at one of the best restaurants in Sao Paulo, adjacent to a favela. A group of people saw me taking pictures and I became a celebrity that night. I was introduced to the leader of the local samba school, a table of Paulistas invited me over and I dined with them, we drank cachaça, hung out with the chef, and closed the place down. I was there for five hours of divine food and drink, and missed the last subways back into Jardins (neighborhood in Sao Paulo). My new friends drove me to a safe neighborhood to catch a cab back to my hotel. I wish every night could be like that.